College Hoops: AUM Hosts Faulkner

By on 9 February, 2015 in Fun, Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

We haven’t yet lived in Montgomery for a decade, but sometimes it feels like we have.

For the duration of these years here, it has been on our “to do” list to attend major home sporting events for each of the local colleges. We want to go to an ASU basketball game, and especially check out the new football and baseball stadiums. We want to see Huntingdon baseball, basketball and football. And we’d love to see some AUM softball – maybe even a Faulkner football game.

We finally checked an item off of our Montgomery college sports list on Saturday, when we attended a local college basketball clash between the AUM Warhawks and the Faulkner Eagles. The game was played at AUM and we had a great time.

If you’re not interested in the results of this particular game, you should simply know that this is a great value for your entertainment dollars. Tickets were $5, and we purchased them simply by walking up on the day of the game. Seating was ample, and concessions were fairly priced. For a small amount of money, we got to see a quality competition between two local schools. But it’s the details of that competition that offer an interesting snapshot of where the AUM and Faulkner basketball programs are, and the kind of basketball you’re likely to see in a NAIA game.

Baseketball note: Both AUM and Faulkner are part of the same athletic conference, something called the Southern States Athletic Conference, which is a collection of schools you may or may not be familiar with.

For casual fans, AUM’s website doesn’t make it entirely clear where the basketball arena is. There’s nothing in the sidebar to the effect of “gameday basics,” although we did click on “gameday information” and got a lecture on keeping it “family friendly,” instead of info about, say, where to park and how much tickets would cost. Pro tip: drive around campus until you see a large building with “Physical Education” written on the side. It might look like a classroom building, and there might not be any signs directing you, but trust us, there’s a game in there. We suspected we were in the right place when we saw two of those inflatable used-car-lot-looking banner things and a car with four balloons tied to it.

The gym is functional, but has a bit of a dated feel. This is probably inevitable in a facility that is expected to be a multi-use auditorium and not simply a palace for basketball. Still, the fan experience could be improved a bit by moving the dangling banners that impair the line of site for the seats facing the team benches. Also, the sound system leaves a lot to be desired for folks sitting where we were. Everything said by the announcer was muffled, as if it were being broadcast from a closet or the house next door. A few speakers and some experiments with volume ought to enable a quick fix to this somewhat frustrating acoustic phenomenon. Otherwise, the bleachers are fairly comfortable and it’s a pretty good place to see a game.

Although both AUM and Faulkner have coaches in their first years of head coaching at their respective schools, it felt (from a totally unfair one-game sample) like two programs heading in opposite directions. Faulkner’s Scott Sanderson spent the game patrolling the sideline, barking orders at players, physically demonstrating defensive techniques, and being warned several times by officials not to stray too far onto the court. AUM’s Michael Cheney, on the other hand, spent much of the game seated, staring directly at the space between his shoes. At one point, he cradled his face in his hands and seemed to be wishing he were somewhere else.

Part of Cheney’s malaise may have been because his team was being throttled by the opponent, with Faulkner’s defensive intensity combining with some solid rebounding and offensive stand-out performances by speedy guard Nick Drake, who made six 3-pointers, and Sasha Ovcharenko, a 6′ 6″ Russian with a nice outside shot and an adoring fan base in the Faulkner student section. Cheney responded to the widening chasm in the score by executing multiple substitutions of everyone on the floor. You don’t often see the “5 sub” first unit/second unit technique, but maybe he was trying to shake things up a bit.

Although the scoreboard reflected the drubbing Faulkner was giving AUM, you didn’t need numbers to see the difference in team attitudes. Faulkner teammates congratulated each other as Ovcharenko pointed at the cheering students waving a Russian flag, and an animated Sanderson emphasized intensity. AUM players must have expected a victory (they defeated Faulkner on Jan. 22 in a game that the final score suggests was not a blowout). When Faulkner jumped out to an early lead, the AUM bench seemed to deflate.

At halftime, Faulkner came out to return for the second half and had run a complete set of layup drills and had a team huddle before AUM even appeared on the floor with barely a minute left in the break. You never want the second half to begin with people in the crowd asking, “Do you think everything’s OK in the locker room?”

At no point was this sentiment hammered home quite as much as when AUM’s LaShaun Murphy went down under the basket with what appeared to be an eye injury. As he rolled around on the floor on the baseline, nobody from the bench even casually sauntered over to see if he was OK. We were shocked when he seemed to vanish without any escort or assistance and later reappeared holding an ice pack to his eye. We honestly felt bad for the guy.

This wasn’t what we were expecting when we purchased a program with the entire team on the cover, promising “new faces” and a “new attitude.” What must the old attitude have been?

Faulkner’s Sanderson was the opposite — extremely energized and vocal. When he wasn’t yelling at his team, he was working the refs. He was even animated as the team left the court at halftime with a huge lead. His electricity played well with the visiting Faulkner student section, who sang soccer chants and held up a sign saying “Auburn rejection letters are AUM acceptance letters.” For what it’s worth, the AUM student section gave back equal snark on the sign front, holding up a sign that taunted Faulkner fans by saying “Afterparty at Chapel.”

It’s hard (and maybe unfair) to say whether the 73-52 Faulkner win was representative of either program’s overall direction, but we were unsurprised to learn that the impressive Faulkner win was its  fifth in a row. And we were equally unsurprised when one of AUM’s top players, the reigning SSAC Player of the Week, Reggie Brown, fouled out with just one more point scored than foul acquired.

All in all, we had a blast and would totally go back to another game. We got caught up in the drama of a halftime tic-tac-toe game involving small children. We made ample fun of the best efforts of AUM’s mascot to ignite the crowd by wearing a hot dog suit. We talked about which songs AUM should have been playing to hype up the crowd (hint: Phil Collins and The Bangles are not likely to excite anyone under the age of 50).

AUM will host Belhaven on Feb. 12, while Faulkner begins a three-game homestand when it plays Oakwood College on Feb. 10.

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