A Bad Time to Stink It Up

By Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 1/22/01

Coming on the heels of their 35-point collapse at Villanova, and with the students back on campus for their first Big East home game, the lackluster performance turned in by the Hokie men's basketball team Saturday against Providence couldn't have come at a worse time.

I keep rooting for these guys to get some momentum going. For years, I have hoped that they'll string together two or three good games, maybe even four or five wins, to get the fan base excited again. And they just keep missing the mark.

This past Saturday's game was one of those rare opportunities that the team gets to impress some fans. Rebuilding the fan following is an arduous, fickle task, and the chances to spur that "Hey, that was fun, I think I'll do this again," feeling among Tech's fan base are uncommon.

Yes, the team has fifteen home games this year, but only a few of them are a chance to play in front of a decent-sized crowd and make an impact. Typically, the early-season games are snoozers. No one outside of the small, loyal fan base comes to see them, and even if they did, a romp over VMI, Elon, or High Point isn't likely to leave a lasting impression among casual followers of the team. (Not to mention that the Hokies have committed the heinous sin of losing a bunch of those "walk-over" early home games the past couple of years, to the likes of ETSU, William and Mary, Radford, and Liberty.)

Then comes the long mid-December to mid-January stretch, where students have gone home for Christmas break and the non-student fans are busy with Christmas, New Year's, and the Hokie football bowl game. Very often, some compelling home matchups occur during this stretch, but no one, including the students, is around to see them. In years past, WVU's Cassell visits have occurred during the Christmas break, and this year, the Villanova and Miami games happened with the students not present.

That's too bad, because the Hokies played well in those games, and against Miami, put together enough highlight film moments to last the team an entire month.

Once the students are back from Christmas break, the team gets one or two opportunities, tops, to impress them, and to impress a non-student gathering that is bored with winter and wants something to do. If the team does well, they have the chance to get those fans back for the next game, and so on. If they don't do well, VT basketball goes back on the back burner, and the fans await spring football. Sorry, but that's the way it is these days with Tech men's basketball.

The game against Providence was such a game. Fans were curious, wondering if the real Hokie team was the one that had challenged Villanova (twice) and had trounced Miami, or if it was the gangling bunch of youngsters who had folded up against the Wildcats in surrendering that big 23-point second half lead.

Many of them think that they got their answer, and they think it was the latter. In succumbing to the Providence Friars 75-60, the listless Hokies were beaten soundly up and down the floor by a crisply-executing Providence team. Tech led 7-6 with 14:23 to go in the first half and then was outscored 65-35 by Providence over the next 28 minutes. The Friars took a 71-42 lead with just over six minutes to go and then called off the dogs.

If you're a Hokie basketball fan, it was your worst nightmare. The team was flat, uninspired, dribbled around on offense, and got beaten on defense, whether by the Providence transition game or half-court set.

The game was a real snoozer. The announced attendance was 5261, but for most of the game (with the exception of Danny Gathings's 16-point explosion in the last ten minutes), you could have heard a feather drop.

It's a shame that the high-flying, pressure defense, slam-jamming Hokies that showed up for the Miami game didn't show up for this game. They would have made a few fans among the students, many of whom were seeing their first glimpse of this team in action.

Instead, it's another opportunity missed. Coach Ricky Stokes was disappointed in the lack of heart and effort showed by the Tech players, one of the very few times he has criticized their effort in the one-and-a-half years that he has been coaching Tech. In the locker room, a dismayed Carlton Carter, who put up 14 points and 7 rebounds, sighed into Mike Burnop's microphone, "This team is falling apart right now."

Carter was overstating the problems -- three halves of bad basketball does not constitute "falling apart." But Carter, a transfer with junior status, knows he doesn't have a whole lot more chances remaining to suit up for his new team, and he's feeling time slip away.

And likewise, his new team doesn't have many chances to impress a fan base that feels like it has been waiting forever for an exciting, winning basketball team. They'll have to wait just a little longer, but hopefully, not too long.

Stokes gave them a few days off to think about what they want to do with the rest of the season. But before they know it, it will be Saturday again, and although their next game, on January 27th, is a home game, the prospects aren't bright. The opponent is St. John's, the same Red Storm that cruised to an 89-64 victory over the Hokies on January 3rd.

Just play hard, fellas. That's step one. And it's a step they didn't take against Providence.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of TechSideline.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for TSL, and generally runs the place with his prodigious and productive brain.


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