Game #9-531: Winthrop Eagles vs. Radford HighlandersMarch 5, 2013 12:00 pm
Myrtle Beach, SC
After nine years of the Big South having a conference tournament in the format of the higher seeds hosting (which varied year by year in how that was implemented exactly), the conference decided to go with the method Kyle prefers and having one neutral site venue. Well, not quite a neutral site. It would be the HTC Center on the campus of Coastal Carolina, 4th place finishers in the South Division and 5th out of 12 teams overall in the Big South. The conference could have chosen a completely neutral venue in Winston-Salem, which wanted a tournament after losing the MEAC Tournament to Norfolk. But they instead chose Coastal, which as I have mentioned before is not all that desirable among newer mid-major arenas
. It's a big improvement over Kimbel Arena, which barely seated over 1,000 and was impossible for even some Coastal season ticket holders to get into when CCU hosted the final as the regular season champion in 2010 and 2011. But aside from being new and modern, the HTC Center has a low seating capacity on the sidelines with very few chairback seats which have become standard elsewhere in the newer facilities. The concourse area also has to share room with the adjacent student recreational center. But that is not why they had the tournament here. It is because of a sponsorship deal with the Myrtle Beach Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, which wanted to promote its website VisitMyrtleBeach.com
(and presumably sell hotel space as well, the lifeblood of the Myrtle Beach metro area). And so this was a destination tournament, where you could go to see your school play and then head to the beach! Here is a map below, showing how close the HTC Center is to the beach!
Hey, wait a minute! Where is the beach on that map? Wasn't every school in the conference promoting that this tournament was at the beach? Well, the beach is just off to the lower right of the picture. But that map image on Google Earth was taken at an eye altitude of 15.72 miles, and goes 18 miles left to right and over ten miles top to bottom. You can certainly get to the beach much more easily than any other school in the conference. But except for promotional purposes to get visitors to come to CCU and the tournament, the HTC Center is not in Myrtle Beach. Technically it's in Conway, the county seat of Horry County and where Myrtle Beach residents can evacuate to if a hurricane comes. It's not really quite in Conway either, which is three miles northwest of CCU on the other side of the Waccamaw River. But Myrtle Beach is nine miles down Highway 501 from the CCU campus. That is not much, assuming you are driving in the middle of the night. If you are driving in the middle of the afternoon, Highway 501 is essentially a parking lot for the outlet malls going to and coming from Myrtle Beach. It often takes over a half hour in peak traffic conditions to get from CCU to Myrtle Beach. And that is the reason that when I was deciding where to go for college, I decided that High Point was a more desirable location than Conway. Saying Coastal Carolina is in Myrtle Beach is like saying Charleston Southern (located on the northern edge of North Charleston) is in Charleston, or like saying that a minor league baseball team that plays in Fort Mill, SC is located in Charlotte, or that two NFL teams that play in New Jersey are from New York. Of course, all those places do in fact advertise their more desirable location. So I will give credit to CCU for not listing itself in Myrtle Beach year round. Advertising yourself as being in the more desirable area of your metro area seems fairly standard, even if not quite honest.
So for the sake of that, let's say that we were in Myrtle Beach for this tournament. The best thing about going to Myrtle Beach is going to the beach of course. And if you want to go for a swim, you will be greeted by chilly waters of 60 degrees. After all, this is early March. And not much is going on at the beach. You won't see many people this time of year soaking up the sun and enjoying the weather on the beach. And that is because it is still technically winter. And for the schools in the Big South, going to a warmer than average destination will not usually blow them away (although it will be a bit of a break from the cold for schools like Radford and UNC Asheville). As for non-beach activities in Myrtle Beach, there is golf. But I don't golf. And there is shopping, and there are plenty of outlet malls to do that at near CCU (which is a major factor behind the traffic). But to me shopping is a chore, and I don't need another expensive hobby after the one I am already doing here. I am here for the basketball. I do not care if the tournament is here, or in Buies Creek. But in my travels, I have found that every place has advantages and disadvantages. And the same is true for the Myrtle Beach area. I don't want to come across as hating any place here. But I am not that big on the idea of certain places being more desirable than others to host tournaments and other special events. And that is where I think the Big South went wrong with choosing a host site because it is a half hour away from a beach. Tourist destinations do not always work well for getting great attendance for sports, just look at the pro baseball teams in Florida. Or instead look at the amount of fans at the multi-team events in November and December played in tropical resorts. There are good fans in the Myrtle Beach area dedicated to local sports like Matt Cayuela
. But even Matt and others have complained about how much attention the locals (who are not usually natives) give to Coastal Carolina athletics. And this is what kind of a crowd this first game between Radford And Winthrop got. Horry County is not quite like Dayton, which is probably the best city in the country for packing the stands for small-time sports regardless of who is playing.
But the low attendance here was understandable, as this was the first game of the tournament played at Noon on a Tuesday. Coastal could have ended up in this game before a time switch to draw more fans (more on that in the next recap). And the access here was not that easy. I was concerned about this when I figured out that CCU was not on Spring Break like High Point was, and that we would have to be dealing with college campus traffic. I drove to my normal parking spot for CCU basketball games, in a faculty lot with little else marked. There was not much in the way of spaces, so after picking up my tournament book I asked various people where the best parking was. Most staff did not know, except for the guy checking VIP parking passes who was not very good at giving concise directions. I then asked for confirmation if I was okay in my current spot. "No", was his reply. I was a bit miffed at this, now trying to figured out the CCU campus all over again. I was not able to find the correct parking, so I just used the admissions visitor lot near the main entrance over a half mile away from the HTC Center where general parking for football games is. I figured out after looking at satellite imagery on my cell phone once inside that the correct lot was off a gravel path now much wider than a sidewalk behind an old bookstore just off campus (which is actually called "Elvington Road" on Google Maps even though it does not resemble a road at all). I would not have guessed that is where the signs were pointing. I knew better later in the tournament, and hopefully Coastal can improve on that for future tournaments. The staff inside was much friendlier and helpful than at my first visit here in December, so things can still change for the better.
So with everything out of the way now, we had 21 basketball games to look forward to this week (11 men and 10 women). Starting the tournament was Winthrop, who would play Radford. Both of these are schools with plenty of past Big South success, but have struggled lately. Winthrop has only one tournament title in the last four years, a big drought for their fans who expect a lot. This was why I somewhat wanted Radford to win, as I have seen enough Winthrop success for the time being. Radford has won the Big South Tournament as recently as 2009, their only tournament title in the last 14 years. And that Radford team, led by dominant Belarussian center Art Parakhouski, was disciplined shortly afterwards for recruiting violations
. While Radford has remained eligible for the postseason, the controversy forced out their coach Brad Greenberg who was given a five year show-cause penalty. Radford was dangerously close to the full-scale NCAA probation that crippled Coastal Carolina's program after success in the early 1990s.
The game started well for Radford, which was able to force turnovers and score in transition off the slow Eagles. Rashaun Davis would lead the Highlanders in taking a 12-7 lead just over eight minutes in. But Winthrop was able tp find their shot late in the half while Radford could get nothing going. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey was able to get his team to cut off penetration and protect the basket in a similar manner to his predecessors in Randy Peele and Gregg Marshall. Winthrop was able to get shots from outside while getting to the basket. They were not dominating in this regard on the offensive end, but were able to do enough to pull past a struggling Highlander team in the first half. Radford only scored 11 points in the final 11 minutes of the first half as Winthrop took a 29-23 halftime lead.
At halftime, I was sitting next to TMM legend Matt Cayuela, one of the locals who was excited for this tournament. Matt introduced me months ago to the Interlude dance
, a halftime tradition at Northern Iowa that Coastal adopted back in January. I was wondering if CCU would play the Interlude at the games here even though this was not actually supposed to be a Coastal Carolina basketball game. Then spontaneously, I heard the rattling intro to the song come on. I immediately got up to dance. Matt was not quite ready, not sure if he had enough energy to keep this up at every game. Not to be outdone by me, Matt then got up and joined in. This was not a Coastal Carolina basketball game, so most Radford and Winthrop fans probably thought we were two weird guys who just decided to get up and start dancing. The video board did not show Chauncey the Chanticleer's instructional video
with the song, although the video board showed a live video of me and Matt dancing. Parks Smith
noted that me and Matt dancing was shown during the next game on the Big South's online subscription network. We eventually got it to be the meme of the tournament before it was over. I don't think there are any videos of it online, but during one women's quarterfinal game later in the tournament the Radford mascot came to do the dance alongside me. Campbell's male cheerleaders also joined me during the women's semifinals, as Liberty's also attempted to do during the women's final (my seating section however was closed for that game, so they ended up dancing by themselves). Most cheereladers (in particular Longwood's) joined in from their spots as well, as did some of the fans. By the end of the tournament, me and Matt had started a Big South tradition. Whenever Matt was absent during some of the women's games, people would ask me where he was. One VMI fan during the men's semifinals thought that me and Matt had come up with the Interlude Dance themselves as some elaborate choreographed flash mob-type dance. Even though the games often were not good, at least we had halftime to look forward to. And it's funny since I am a guy who focuses on the game, and does not like distractions from it. But the Interlude is during the interlude of course, and is good exercise. It's similar to why Manhattan invented the Seventh Inning Stretch over 100 years ago. And it's probably something I need to do more by myself to get fit.
So back to the game now. The game would remain a defensive struggle, and Radford would pull back even as Winthrop struggled to find its offense this time. Davis was able to get to the line and make make shots to briefly give Radford a two point lead three minutes into the half. After that, the game mostly went back and forth as the tempo slowed down. The offense was not too bad in the second half, but it just was not fast. Winthrop went back to the style of play that has brought it success over the years as both teams grinded it out. There were only 25 possessions by each team in the second half. That is not to say the second half was boring, but rather that both teams played cautiously with a lot at stake. But Winthrop's caution may have let Radford calmly catch back up after the Eagles led by four with 2 minutes left. Davis tied the game with just over 30 seconds left, and Winthrop held for the last shot. But as is often the case when you hold for the last shot, the shot Winthrop got off was no good and we were headed to overtime. At least this was not a baseball tournament with an extra innings game, where the games are crunched in.
It appeared that the end of regulation had given the Highlanders momentum they needed going into OT. Free throws by Davis and Javonte Green gave Radford a five point lead just over two minutes into OT. But it was Winthrop this time who did well under pressure, scoring six of the next seven points to tie the game with a minute left. After a missed Radford three with 30 seconds left, Winthrop held for one shot again. It would once again be taken by Joab Jerome, who finished with a game-high 22 points. Rather than pulling up for an outside shot like he had done before, Jerome drove to the basket as he had done well all game and delivered the big bucket with two seconds left to put Winthrop up two. A miracle shot at the buzzer would not fall for Radford, and Winthrop had won yet another Big South Tournament game by a final score of 60-58. Jerome's final shot is pictured below, and you can see Matt's video of it here
I have to give Coastal credit, as the gameday experience was better than in the regular season for the most part. The tournament for the most part ran much more smoothly than I expected, with parking an exception. Hopefully next year Coastal will schedule Spring Break around the tournament, which could make it logistically easier for the campus. There are always ways to improve, and I don't want to come across as being anti-Conway or anti-Myrtle Beach. It's just that I am not pro-Myrtle Beach/Conway/Horry County, and just do not see the appeal of having a tournament at a destination spot. Maybe I am just too much of a basketball junkie, only coming to Conway to see 21 basketball games in six days and can't see the appeal of other things to do in Horry County. And the location does work out for Matt, who has traveled a lot in the past and can now see a lot of basketball near home. And it also works out for me, since I had never seen an entire conference tournament before and have not had a tournament less than two hours away in quite some time. But I can see the appeal of having the tournament in any place, and feel it is a shame that we are going away from the higher seed hosting. My preference would be for several locations to be booked, with the one closer to the regular season champion being used. But I know that is not feasible in practice, so we have to do the best we can with what we have. Aside from my bad memories going there
when they were dominant, I thought Winthrop would have been the best location for the tournament. But as I have mentioned with my own school High Point
, I just want to see things improve for the conference. And it looks like we will be in Conway for the next few years.
WINTHROP 60, RADFORD 58
WINTHROP 14-16 (6-10) -- J. Jerome 10-18 2-2 22; R. King 4-8 2-2 11; A. Smith 2-11 5-6 9; G. Gamble 2-9 0-0 4; J. Bourne 1-2 1-2 3; S. Johnson 4-8 0-0 9; L. Brown 0-0 0-0 0; C. Farmer 0-3 0-0 0; S. Diop 0-0 2-4 2. Totals 23-59 12-16 60.
RADFORD 13-19 (7-9) -- R. Davis 5-11 8-8 18; J. Green 3-13 7-10 13; R. Price 1-6 0-0 2; K. Noreen 2-2 1-2 6; Y. Anderson 2-5 0-0 6; B. Holcomb 1-2 0-0 2; K. Brown 0-2 5-6 5; J. Carethers 2-4 0-0 4; B. Smith 0-0 0-0 0; L. Dyer 1-1 0-2 2. Totals 17-46 21-28 58.
Three-point goals: WINT 2-14 (G. Gamble 0-2; R. King 1-1; J. Jerome 0-3; A. Smith 0-5; C. Farmer 0-1; S. Johnson 1-2), RAD 3-14 (J. Green 0-2; R. Price 0-5; K. Noreen 1-1; R. Davis 0-2; Y. Anderson 2-4); Rebounds: WINT 35 (J. Jerome 12), RAD 23 (J. Green 5); Assists: WINT 4 (J. Jerome 3), RAD 8 (R. Price 4); Total Fouls -- WINT 20, RAD 15; Fouled Out: WINT-None; RAD-None.
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