Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wake Up People!

The defining moment in Davidson's 12th straight victory and 14th conference win came at a stoppage in play late in the second half. Elon trailed by only seven and had the ball. I glanced over to the opposite corner of the arena to find President Ross and his wife let out simultaneous deep yawns. Then, as if compelled by some higher god of yawns, I watched an Atlanta Braves-like wave of them just roll down the opposite sideline, make its way back up the sideline behind me and culminate with five students plopping down into their seats in the middle of the student section.

Elon came out of the timeout to hit a three and cut the lead to four.

Davidson has one of the nation's longest conference winning streaks right now (23 games in the regular season, 26 counting the tournament). The Wildcats have only lost two home conference games in five years and have not lost a night conference game in Belk Arena since February 2003.

But here were the Wildcats, struggling to put away these pesky Phoenix with their zones and long possessions and 6-7 three-point shooters, and their own fanbase could only yawn.

And here's the problem. Stephen Curry won't let anyone worry about the outcome. After Elon cut the lead to four, Curry came down and hit a three. The Phoenix responded by hitting another three. After then after some free throws from Jason Richards, Curry split a double team and hit a driving lean-in jumper to put the lead at nine and get all of the 3424 on hand to stand up and give a golf clap.

The Davidson ticket office had just put on one of the best student ticket pickups ever on Monday morning as they gave away record numbers of tickets to the Elon and "blackout" College of Charleston games. But, for whatever reason, most of those students did not show up on Wednesday night, and the ones who did seemed preoccupied with Physics equations running through their heads. Many of Davidson's season ticket holders also did not make it to the game because of threatening weather and the 9 p.m. tipoff of the Duke-North Carolina game. The official attendance of 3424 was extremely optimistic, at best.

Now there were many problems in last night's 10-point home win over a 7-14 team that did not directly stem from the lethargic fan support. Richards seemed a little flustered at the point of the Wildcats' offense, only recording one assist in the first twenty minutes of play (he finished with an uncharacteristically low four assists against four turnovers). The Wildcats did not execute their offense when faced with high-ball pressure in the 1-3-1 zone. Lovedale and Meno were off on their interior shooting, combining to go just 3-12 from the field. And somehow everyone misread the scouting report on 6-8 forward T.J. Douglas who went 4-9 from the field, all of which were three-point shots. Davidson did not guard him as a shooter until he had already made his fourth three.

But dangit if Stephen Curry doesn't always seem to sweep in for the rescue and forego the punishment of a loss that Davidson fans probably deserved last night. Curry hauled in seven defensive rebounds and had four steals, which, considering how few possessions Elon had, means that Curry ended more Phoenix possessions on his own than most of his teammates combined. The sophomore guard scored 23 points in the second half to finish with 36, including a stellar 9-9 performance from the free throw line.

Although the team did not play its best ball in the least, I would be remiss not to qualify this critique with the observation that Jason Richards always seems to turn struggling personal performances into gutsy offensive production and that Andrew Lovedale probably would have looked more natural than Brad Pitt in that opening scene from Troy where Achilles thrusts the sword into the giant's shoulder.

As the game remained close, Richards continued to attack the paint where he was rewarded with free throws and layup opportunities (he hit 8-10 FTs to finish with 16 points). Lovedale set a new personal season high with 13 rebounds, many of which had him beating guards out to the sideline to chase down the ball. Although he had early foul trouble and missed his patented turnaround jumpers, Lovedale's pure adrenaline on the glass kept Elon from getting even more second chance points than they did (Elon had 18 to Davidson's 3).

By nine 0' clock last night, Davidson had pulled out conference win number fourteen, 74-64. But these Wildcats' efforts were far more deserving than just another tick mark on the big board for conference perfection. Their hustle was worthy of more than just blanket criticism for letting a SoCon cellar-dweller take them to the final minute at home. And ultimately the willpower of all of the coaches and players was far more worthy than just a yawn and a golf clap. We fans have become spoiled with success. If we don't wake up and start recognizing the greatness of these Wildcats, then our hubris might just catch up with us around the ninth or tenth of March.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this wake-up call, in the most literal sense! You're frustratingly right about this... our weeknight crowds have been really sad so far this year. We've got UNCG and App State remaining as weeknight games -- c'mon, Davidson fans! Get out there and make some noise!

Will, you look like a pro with the headset on at press row, by the way...


John said...

The new Davidson ticket policy is at fault for this lack of enthusiasm in my opinion. When the student sections were first-come, all the rabid fans were concentrated in the endzone section. The section cheered nearly every possession and no one sat the whole game, except maybe halftime. Often no one sat because we over-packed the section. However, the new policy is spreading out those fans, making the cheering much less effective. Without being able to feed off the energy of like-minded fans, cheers are more difficult to start and maintain. Our recent success has caused us to lose part of the reason for that success: a loud, intimidating home floor.

Anonymous said...

You blame the policy, but how does the policy effect the ability to fill that section and to cheer?

John said...

Because not everyone can camp out overnight or arrive several hours early in the morning in order to pick up tickets. Also, since a single student can claim up to 4 tickets (provided they have 4 CatCards), it takes a very small number of students to claim the endzone section. Those tickets seem to go first every game. However, that doesn't reflect a full section because many students pick up tickets just in case and then decide not to attend the game. Now that we have people checking the tickets for the appropriate section, other students cannot fill empty seats. Before if a student decided not to attend, they did not prevent someone else from sitting in a section. Now they do.

As for the cheering, I see that as diminished for two reasons. First, as stated before, the section is not full. Second, because some students are having friends pick up tickets for them, they are not as invested in the game. As a result, they sit rather than stand and clap rather than yell.

Anonymous said...

Yes I completely agree, the new ticket policy prevents the more interested fans from sitting in the end zone section. I chose not to come to the Elon game because I didn't feel like not sitting in the end zone for the first time in my Davidson career and I had a ton of homework and it was Elon. It used to be that those who cared the most got there earliest and there was no cap on the size of the section. Now they give away tickets at 9 am, convient for the athletic office to not get up early, but impossible for fans with an 8:30 class to get endzone tickets. The freshman this year were spoiled by the big preconference games, they think Davidson basketball is a major social party, they think they can show up 10 minutes after tip and use their end zone ticket, in years past even if they had the ticket for the seat, if they weren't there 15 minutes early we wouldn't have given it up. It is absolutely silly to not let students move down to the end zone section if it isn't full at tip. Fortunately this won't be an issue come tournament time when the most interested fans won't let petty issues such as 8:30 classes or sleep come between them and a ticket. I will join the que at 6 pm the night before tournament tickets go on sale.

Anonymous said...

While I don't disagree with the seating policy that assigns tickets by section, I think it's ridiculous that the students don't get more floor seats. At almost every other school I've gone to, the students get at least 1/3 of the floor seats. Instead, Davidson shoves us mostly up in the corner of the upper level. But who am I kidding, Davidson is operating a business - if rich alumni are going to buy season passes and never show up to the games, then Davidson would rather take the money than give its students the good seats.

catmando said...

I too was dissappointed to see the turnout and the lack of energy at the Elon game at Belk which I watched on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network from my house in Washington. While Elon is far from a top-ten team they pushed us to our limit at their place and should have been viewed by our fans as the next team to stand in the way of our Wildcats' goals.

Perhaps a system that allows season ticket holders to release their seats like they have at Chapel Hill would help. Season ticket holders' committment to making Belk a tough place to play is critical.

I think that charging even $1 per ticket would be better than giving the tickets away. Students and people in general tend to put little value on things that they get for nothing. A $1 ticket will be prized and cherished the way a $5 pizza seems to taste better than a free one.

At the risk of sounding too nostalgic, in the late 80's the students used to pack Johnston Gym for every game including some incredible duels between Derek Rucker and Skip Henderson. The home crowds at that time, I believe, played a critical role in the outcome of games - supporting our players and their efforts and making the foe wonder if they would get out of the place alive. In those days we were rabid for teams that were not having the perennial success that the teams of the last five or six years are having.

This team's early season effort, the phenomenal play of Curry and Co., the string of conference wins should be producing a building enthusiasm that crescendoes at tournament time but that gets practice along the way. The love we give our team will give them the spirit to push themselves beyond what they are today.

The team understands its challenges and has been delivering thrills for its fans. As fans it is our burden, our duty to make the mid-week contests and put in as much as we are getting out. Complancency will ruin us.

As a Davidson fan it would be nice not to have to travel again to Charleston, College Park, Dayton, Buffalo, or Bobcats Arena to experience the out-of-your-seat kind of enthusiasm that our team has earned and should expect at Belk.

Let's enjoy the ride the whole way.

Anders said...

On the one hand, I was saying the exact same thing after the Elon game -- we're spoiled and the fans expect to win. Even with the close score, I don't think the thought of losing seriously crossed my mind, such is my confidence in the Cats.

But, on the other hand...Class? Sleep? That's what's stopping you from getting the tickets that you want? I've forgone both in recent weeks to be first or second in line for the Elon/CofC games and the Winthrop tickets.

I've never enjoyed sitting in the endzone area -- I think the angle is much better from section six -- so don't blame me for taking your seats, but also consider that being the best fan requires exerting more effort than everybody else. If you want those tickets, wake up early -- or designate a friend to do so -- and claim what's rightfully yours. My friends and I have found our niche in the corner and we've put a lot of planning into ensuring its ours for every game. If you, me, and the rest of the dedicated fans all make that effort, then those half-hearted kids will have no choice but the bleachers.