Well, Charlotte 49ers fans, it is the final Basketball Homecoming. Time to mingle in the parking lot to see what is going on from a fan perspective. I want you, the reader, to feel that you were at the game experiencing it live.
At the Alumni Tailgate we have the famous “Normbulance” owned by Rob Dibble, an ambulance painted green and white, with all the lights switched out from red to green. It is decked out with a TV & stereo systems, a heater, and a pullout bar.
I interview one fan about the game. I ask Kevin Harward for his thoughts. He says, “We’re disappointed Mayfield made some bad decisions, allegedly.” Well, that sums it up right there, but who can step up to take DeMario Mayfield’s place? With our leading scorer suspended indefinitely, we are very short handed.
Rob Dibble has Niner Schlager to hand out to his congregants as “Niner Communion.” It is a mixture of Goldschlager and green dye. Rob selects a member of the crowd to pump up the fans for the Homecoming Game. He selects Scotty Olson, who has not been here all season because he lives on the coast. Scotty’s speech includes, “I live in Eastern North Carolina, and it’s like a third-world country, and there are ECU fans everywhere. It’s good to be back in God’s country with real Niners.” The tailgate crowd roars in delight. It looks like we have some fans that are big time pumped up for the last Basketball Homecoming Game before the University switches to Football Homecomings in the Fall of this year.
I go into Halton Arena to see whether we can pull out the W. If we get the win on Groundhog Day that means six more weeks of WINS!
The students start their “I Believe” chant.
I Believe That
I Believe That We
I Believe That We Will Win!
I Believe That We Will Win!
I Believe That We Will Win!”
I look and see that UMass only dressed nine. I get confident that they are more undermanned than we are.
The player intros for both teams start. During the UMass intros, the students start a “Forty” chant, and the rest of the Arena answers “Niners.” I guess a lay person would think that that Forty Niners is a UMass player for all you can hear.
It’s the opening tip as Sampson Carter of UMass receives. UMass scores to go up 2-0, and the game is under way.
We have our first instance of Crowd “Defense” right before the 19:02 mark. UMass has the ball, the crowd prematurely counts “3, 2, 1″ before the shot clock is done. The UMass player with the ball falls down while passing to a teammate who shoots up an airball. Crowd Defense has won.
Fans get frustrated as the ball gets lost in traffic on a 49er possession, and the ball looks like it is being dribbled by air before UMass gets the steal and the score to go up 6-4.
At the 15:36 Timeout the chancellor and the alumni president present an uniform to Richard Hudson, the first 49er alum to go to US Congress. Later, I get a quote on Representative Hudson’s thoughts on the game: “Just excited to be here. It’s a big game for us. Hope we can pull it out.” Yes, it is a big game, Rep. Hudson, as both UMass and Charlotte are 4-2 in the Atlantic 10, a 1/2 game out of 1st place.
(Did you know that the 16-4 start for the 49ers is the best since the 1976-1977 season when UNC Charlotte started 17-2, according to the Athletic Department? That was the year of their only Final Four run. When I saw that stat, I was thinking, “Self, don’t get your hopes up too high.”)
At the 13:49 mark, UMass gets the dreaded three free throws, with an 11-10 lead. With the fans waving foam 2 by 4’s, and the spirit squad twirling a circle that spins green and white for distraction, UMass misses all three. The crowd goes wild. It stays 11-10, UMass.
At 13:04, we steal the ball from UMass right after they stole it from us. A double steal, in our favor. The crowd goes nuts.
At the 7:51 time out we are reminded this is the last basketball homecoming, and football is on the way in the fall when the football players come out for the t-Shirt throw. The crowd is very excited for the hint of the 49ers football debut.
The Return of Thorne–Seldom used Mike Thorne scores a basket and a free throw to make a three-point play at the 5:00 mark to cut the deficit to 2. The crowd is going crazy. Is Thorne finally going to reach his potential after redshirting last year, and hardly playing this year? I hear “Big Mike” chants the rest of the game.
At the 3:42 rimeout we have the Gold Dusters dance for the crowd. It looks like we have twice the girls we normally have at a game. Even mascot Norm gets in the act, dancing with the girls.
Chris Braswell shoots three times, gets his own rebound twice, scores, and we’re all knotted up at 26-26.
Defense and turnovers have led the 49ers on an 11-2 run to turn a 26-21 deficit into a 32-28 lead. Five guys on the floor working seamlessly as a team is a beautiful thing. The halftime score is 34-31, 49ers.
At the half, the 1987-1988 team is introduced. It is the 25th Anniversary of that NCAA tournament team. One of the players is the great Byron Dinkins.
Right before the end of the half, the jumbotron plays “This Town.” It highlights the win over Michigan to go to the ’77 Final Four, wins in C-USA over Cincy and Louisville, the halfcourt three pointer to beat Indy at the buzzer in Indiana, numerous rushing court moments, etc. Great way to start the second half.
There is a no foul call that favors UMass on a steal and score to cut it to 36-33. The crowd is extremely upset with the referees.
Then there is a quick turnaround due to UMass turnovers. 49ers lead 40-33. UMass timeout at the 16:49 mark. The cheerleaders come out as the crowd is going crazy. The cheerleaders try to pump them up more. I even see the infamous “Uh-Huh Guy” giving props to the Homecoming King.
Three! We’re up 10 at the 14:07 mark. Wait, no we’re not. The refs just called us out of bounds on the three shooter. The crowd is LIVID! No one can believe the call. Everyone believes the three shooter was in bounds. The score stays 44-37.
UMass defense slows us down and scores two 3’s sandwiching one at the line to tie it at 44-44 at 11:57 mark. We respond with a three, 47-44, 49ers!
Ivan Benkovic with a three. We lead 50-44.
Willie Clayton with a thunderous dunk to make it 52-44 at 10:29 mark. Crowd is hyped! Then ref calls a “T” for hanging on the rim. Crowd is beside itself. UMass goes 1-2 at the line. 52-45 49ers.
Terrence Williams catches the ball out of bounds at 9:52 mark. Chris Braswell called for walking at 9:24. Crowd disagrees. Braswell knocks the ball out of bounds at the 8:52 mark. Three straight possessions with a 49er turnover.
At the 7:46 mark we’re up a touchdown, 56-49.
Terrence Williams called for a foul at the 7:34 mark. The fans wanted a UMass walk.
At the 7:34 timeout the cheerleaders and Gold Dusters do a joint performance to pump up the crowd for the stretch run.
UMass hits two straight 3’s to cut it to 58-57.
Both teams scramble for the ball, and it touches numerous players as it rolls all the way down the other end of the court and out of bounds at the 3:46 mark. The refs rule its our ball and the crowd goes wild. (Even though, we aren’t sure it’s even our ball.)
63-60, 49ers at the 2:38 mark.
63 all at 2:20.
E. Victor Nickerson saves a possession. We don’t score, but you have to love the effort.
EVN hits two FT’s at the 1:16 mark. 65-63, 49ers.
Braswell is called for a foul at the 59.9 mark. The crowd is not happy.
“Let’s go Charlotte” chants by the crowd.
49ers are fouled at the 33.3 mark. Timeout UMass. Willie Clayton goes 1-2 at the line, and it’s 66-63, 49ers.
UMass scores to make it 66-65 at 17.2. Alan Major calls a timeout.
Nickerson is fouled and goes 0-2 at the line at the 14.8 mark.
UMass gets the rebound, and goes down on offense looking to win the game. Pierria Henry steals the ball at the 5.8 mark and runs out the clock. And we have ball game. Charlotte 49ers 66, UMass Minutemen 65. The crowd is jubilant.
On the way out, I see at T-Shirt that says, “Kick Some UMass.” Well, that says it all, now doesn’t it?