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Just Off-Camera

"They respect you if you write. The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter." -Dan Jenkins


Thursday, January 05, 2006

MEAC Basketball - It's Artestic!

Last night, I was sitting courtside at the Maryland-Eastern Shore -North Carolina A&T basketball game (don't worry, I caught the fourth quarter of the Rose Bowl, which was all you really needed to see). The basketball game was surprisingly exciting, with UMES coming back from a seven-point deficit with about three minutes left to force overtime, and then coming back from four points down in OT to win.

The highlight - or lowlight, I suppose - was a furious brawl that erupted as the players were shaking hands after the game. I've never seen anything like it in person at a sporting event; the only thing I could think to compare it to was the fight between the Pacers and Pistons last season. Because it happened so quickly, and because I can't find any written account of the fight anywhere, it's hard for me to describe it all. So many players paired off and split into individual fights during the melee that I can't remember any particular one. I was sitting next to my friend Josh Maurer, who calls the games for the UMES Hawks, and he was trying to call out as many of the names of the combatants as he could. Both of us were worried that the fight was going to spill over the table in front of us, as players threw punches wildly.

His call of the game is archived here, and the final play of the game - a missed three, followed by a blocked putback that would have tied the game at the buzzer - begins at the 2:21:24 mark. It's followed almost immediately by the fight, which, according to the call, initially involved the Hawks' Art Valentine. His teammate, Brandon Moore, was punched by the Aggies' Jason Wills, who had played a terrific game before fouling out late in regulation. The Hawks' Terrell Harris also took a swing at the Aggies' Michael Hayes. Then, suddenly, as quickly as the fight began, it ended as a few state police officers stepped in. The officers were holding up pepper spray, threatening to use them, and since they were no more than five yards away, I was worried they would.

After the fight, I heard various versions of what happened (obviously none of which could be confirmed). The story went something like this: In the handshake line, A&T's Walter Booth, who had a career game (20 points; he had scored 25 all season entering the game) came up to Hawks forward Antonio McMillion and threw an uppercut at him, setting off the fray. McMillion was the player who blocked the putback attempt at the buzzer in OT, ensuring the UMES win in thrilling fashion. Another version had Booth taking a shot at Troy Jackson, who had been matched up with Booth for some of the game and also scored a career high (18 points off the bench).

As soon as the fight began, I thought first of getting my camera out of my pocket and taking pictures. However, the players were getting closer to the announcers' table as they were swinging at each other, and so I next thought about maybe protecting myself in case anyone came over the table (hey, I saw what happened at the Palace last year). By then, the police were already intervening, and in the half minute that the fight took, I didn't end up taking a picture. I sort of regret not having done so, but it's probably for the better, since I was a guest of the team's announcer. As far as I know, there were no pictures taken of the brawl by anyone.

I don't think there will be any consequences, either. Although the police got involved, no arrests were made, and because the refs had already left the court by the time the fight started, there probably won't be any suspensions handed down by the MEAC or NCAA. I doubt the coaches will do anything, either; in the postgame show, UMES head coach Larry Lessett painted the scrap as a good thing, revealing his team's intensity, while NC A&T only had 10 players dressing after a few players became ineligible, so I doubt they will scratch anyone else from their lineup.

Before this, the most intense fight I ever saw in person at a sporting event was in 2003, when the Cubs' Kyle Farnsworth charged the plate and beat the crap out of the Reds' Paul Wilson, as you can see in these pictures. Farnsworth pummeled Wilson silly that day, spattering blood all over his jersey. However, that fight wasn't an all-out brawl; it was more a one-on-one battle. While nobody got their ass handed to them the way Paul Wilson did in last night's fight, it was definitely more intense - the players, for a moment, were wild-eyed, trying to land serious punches and do some damage. Josh, who was calling the game, pulled out the Joe Buck routine and said, "That was one of the ugliest displays of end-of-game sportsmanship I've ever seen in my life, and I'm sorry I had to sit there and watch that."

That's pretty much right - and last night's sorry episode was the kind for which that kind of indignation should be reserved.

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