Night in the MEAC: a Cigarboy Road Trip
It is a conference of historic Black schools. They are only ranked 31st in the RPI, but don’t tell the fans tonight at North Carolina A&T University, to them the home team Aggies are the NBA Champion 1993 Chicago Bulls. And little Steven Rush who tonight scored 28 points, is their Michael Jordan.
Well tonight’s tale takes place at the 5700 seat Corbett Sports Center, a very unremarkable basketball venue built in 1978.
For starters the Corbett Sports Center had an impressive 37 game winning streak from January 18, 1986 until November 30, 1988.
Around that time the Aggies appeared in the NCAA Tournament seven straight times from 1981 through 1987. They even made a couple return appearances in 1994 and 1995. Since then winning seasons have been few and far between.
Coming into this game A&T was only 8-12 and the Hampton Pirates were just 7-12. But someone forgot to tell the 4105 fans who came to the Corbett Sports Center to see their beloved Aggies win.
The Aggies average over 4000 fans a game and that is far more than any other school in their conference.
Those fans include the students standing at each end just 2-3 feet from the court. It is very intimidating to have fans that close.
Twice during the game there was an announcement to stay off the court and out of play. But tonight the students are well behaved.
Music is front and center at this venue. When the action stops the very good pep band swings into action. If it is not the band, then they crank up the rap music or sometimes some jazzy R and B music.
But rest assured it will not be quiet.
Now let me add I am not a fan of rap music, but gosh darn it works at the Corbett Sports Center. Maybe it is because of all the fans dancing in front of their seats. The stands start to shake and sway as the dance competition gets going. There is never a dull moment when the action stops on the court.
The PA announcer is a fellow named John Allen. He has a great voice, and the ability to say just the right thing, at the right time, using a minimum of words to do it.
At just the right time he will say, “Are there any Aggies in the House?”
Of course, the fans get louder.
Then it gets even louder again.
At the beginning of the evening he reminded the fans that A&T’ Corbett Sports Center was chosen as the 14th best atmosphere in college. He said it as a reminder to the fans to keep the noise level up.
Never mind that he was referring to a fan poll from ESPN.com where fans who never went to most of the venues presented in the poll to be voted on just voted for their favorite schools.
But that is not the point. The point is that A&T takes tremendous pride in their program and the atmosphere in the gym, plus that everyone there was having a great time.
As the crowd roared the Aggies came out and laid an egg. By the 9:22 mark in the first half they trailed by 19 points at 27-8.
But the crowd screamed, danced and sang along with the music and sure enough Lazarus came back from the dead as the Aggies closed the gap to as close as eight points with a minute left in the first half before allowing Hampton to push their led back up to double digits at 41-30 at half time.
The half time entertainment was the dance team. They danced to some rap songs and every eye in the place was on the girls, as they worked their way though their routine.
In the second half the Aggies chipped away at the Hampton lead and finally at the 11:09 mark they tied the game at 48-48 on a free throw by Jason
During the time outs the music plays on.
During one second half time out, they cranked up the song “Atomic Dog” by George Clinton. All eyes went up to the upper section aisle where a fraternity did a fancy dance in unison, while a lot of the fans especially the students danced a little themselves.
By the 3:59 mark the Aggies pushed their lead up to five points at 62-57.
Another time out and the crowd is going nuts.
They played a song called Go Sit Down by Maceo and of course everyone stood up and danced. There was a fraternity dancing in a mob on the upper aisle and there was one shirtless guy on anther guy’s shoulders. As they were dancing the guys were all smacking the guy on the shoulders until he fell off. Of course, they caught him and everyone in the gym had a smile on their face.
Back on the court as the game starts fans are shouting, “defense, defense, defense,” but the game starts going south for A&T and they end up losing 70-64.
The fans go home after another loss, but they will be back again. After all this is North Carolina A&T and their games are among the most unique, interesting and fun games in all of college basketball.