Three weeks ago I headed out to Monmouth University to do a review of their basketball arena for Stadium Journey. With that completed, only three of the 351 Division I basketball venues were left to review. Think about that for a minute. Over the past four years, Stadium Journey has sent a correspondent to 348 college basketball arenas! The three that remained to be reviewed were Savannah State, Abilene Christian, and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Through continuous begging, Stadium Journey founder Paul Swaney managed to find people willing to do the first two, leaving UAPB as the lone outstanding arena. With the NCAA tournament just over a week away, it became a matter of increasing urgency to find someone to make the trip to Pine Bluff for the final game of the season on March 8th. I had the weekend free and decided to investigate flights from New York to Little Rock, the nearest airport. Surprisingly they were not that expensive for a last minute flight and after some negotiations with my wife, I decided to go. Arkansas was one of the few states that I had yet to see a game and I didn't expect to get another chance to visit until 2015 at the earliest.
On Saturday morning, I left my apartment at 10 am and was in Little Rock (an hour behind) at 4:30 after a transfer in Atlanta. Pine Bluff is just 40 miles south, and I was on campus at 6:00, searching for the H.O. Clemmons Arena, home of the Golden Lions. The arena is not specifically listed on the campus map, as it is part of the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building. (HPER). It's at the corner of Watson Blvd. and L.A. "Prexy" Davis Drive if you still can't find it. Parking is free and plentiful; ignore the signs warning about towing as those won't apply in the lots near the arena.
The Lions play in the SWAC, a collection of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) that also happen to be the worst conference in basketball according to CBS' RPI rankings. The visitors were the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils, the 347th ranked team in the nation. Suffice to say that this one wouldn't be getting a lot of play on ESPN. Observant readers will remember that I saw the Delta Devils at Texas Southern just last year. UAPB is perhaps best known for winning the last opening round game in NCAA Tournament history (before the First Four was introduced) when they beat Winthrop in 2010 before getting thumped by eventual champion Duke in the first round. This accomplishment is celebrated with the biggest banner in the gym.
Tickets were "tennnn dawwlerrrs", said in a slow southern drawl that made me realize I was, in fact, in Arkansas and not dreaming. I looked at my stub and saw it was actually $15, but this was the price if you showed up early for the women's game, which had started at 5. I walked into the arena and found this tilt was nearing its finish (below). The Lady Lions had a five-point lead on the Devilettes with about seven minutes left, but they blew it and lost by a point in overtime, which delayed the start of the men's game by about 30 minutes.
It was senior night, and before tip off the UAPB seniors were honoured with a quick ceremony. College ball is so much hype these days but it is really these smaller schools where you can see how important athletics is to the players and student body; the players knew that real life lay ahead, not the NBA draft and they were grateful for their past four years. Below is DaVon Haynes accepting his plaque with his family. He is listed as a junior in terms of academics but his eligibility has expired after he spent a year at Bowling Green before being dismissed. Haynes kissed the floor after the game as well, something you won't see anywhere else.
When things finally got underway, the Delta Devils remained close through the first 10 minutes, down just 22-20 before the Golden Lions used a 12-4 run on their way to a 42-33 halftime lead. The early star was Daniel Broughton (#44 below) who sank a couple of threes in the first couple of minutes to set the tone.
UAPB opened the second half with a 9-2 run to essentially end things and the rest of the game was pretty dull. Only with a few minutes left and the game well in hand did the Golden Lions start to show off a bit for senior night. After a Delta Devil basket, AUPB would send the ball down to the other end of the floor where an open man would dunk with authority, sending the remaining fans into a frenzy. MVSU started fouling to end this trend and the game ended with a whimper as the Golden Lions won 83-68.
Haynes (#3 above just missing a block) was the leading scorer with 22, while Anthony McDonald (#24) had 14 points for the losers. There were 123 shot attempts with 52 of those (42%) coming from beyond the arc. The Golden Lions were better in all facets of the game, shooting 49% from the floor compared to just 36% for the visitors.
There were 4,337 on hand, filling most of the general admission benches. The picture below was taken after the game and gives you an idea of the layout of the arena. Great crowd for a town with a population of just 55,000 and a school with an enrolment of just 3,300.
The band was 80 members strong and was better than many bands I've seen at bigger schools. The dancers in white, known as the Golden Girls, were quite energetic as well.
Although the student population at UAPB is still predominantly African-American, there are a few Caucasians on campus, and one on the basketball team, appropriately named Trent Whiting (#15 below). If you made that up, you would be laughed at.
My Stadium Journey review can be found here.
Bobcats at Wizards on Wednesday. That is gonna be the NBA game of the year, check back for an update Thursday.