Coliseum was the exact image that ECU officials fantasized about upon
entering Conference USA in basketball six years ago. Unfortunately, the
atmosphere has only reached the ear piercing decibels of Wednesday
night a handful of times.
The lack of a consistent fan base brings up a simple question; why
can’t the Pirates fill the Minges on a regular basis? Is it a lack of
marquee opponents, poor historical record or lowered expectations? For
ECU officials and little ole me, trying to find an answer only brings
up more questions.
First of all, kudos to the “sellout” crowd of 7,535 that watched the
Pirates narrowly miss a prime upset opportunity of No .5 Memphis. At
last check, the capacity of Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum was
8,100. How can a game be a “sellout” when 546 more people crammed
inside to watch ECU upset Marquette in 2002?
I digress. Point is, the students came out in full force and the alumni
did their part as well. Save for a couple of instances, the crowd was
respectful. However, the “overrated” chant from the Minges Maniacs at
the 10:59 mark in the first half probably wasn’t the brightest idea.
Even so, I think Terry Holland’s vision of creating a respectful, but
tough environment was cemented. With the crowd at their backs, the
Pirates dueled with one of the best teams in the nation.
“It makes us play harder when we have an environment like that,” said
freshman guard Sam Hinnant.
“I just thought it was a great atmosphere in the arena,” said Ricky
Stokes. “I know it gave us a lot of energy. It was loud and it was hot.
It really provided the atmosphere for us to play well.”
In what was the only game that could be measured up the Memphis crowd,
the Pirates handily defeated instate rival UNC Wilmington. Outside a
trip to Winston-Salem, the two teams have been the best the Pirates
have faced. Aside from the marquee opponents, take a retrospective look
at the schedule.
Two teams that the Pirates should have beaten were instate teams UNC
Greensboro and Western Carolina. Put 7,535 partisan fans in the crowd
and there is little doubt the Pirates end up victorious. The same goes
for the early season Gardner-Webb loss. If those three games swung in
the Pirates’ favor, they’re entering the second game of C-USA play at
Of course, would haves and should haves are pointless in athletics. But
for argument’s sake, think of the boost the players got from
Wednesday’s raucous crowd. In ECU’s 10 highest attended home games
(including Wednesday night’s No. 6 ranking), the Pirates are 4-6.
Despite the Memphis contest, the crowds in 2005-2006 have been less
than stellar. Through nine home games, the Pirates are averaging 5,226
fans per contest. If the season were to end now, the attendance would
rank third of the six years in C-USA.
It shouldn’t take a top five opponent to bring fans out in droves. The
lowered preseason expectations certainly drained early season student
participation. And losing a couple of key noisemakers in the Maniac
section hasn’t helped either.
But it’s still on the students to show up. Many of the students buying
the $2 T-shirts from Pirate Radio 1250 & 930 AM were inside Minges
for the first time all season. Instead of waiting for a name opponent,
the “fair weather students” need to get behind the team at all times.
Wednesday night’s crowd was just a reminder of how much potential that
basketball has in Greenville. If only every game could be as electric.
Until the crowd finds their identity, the team will be searching for
theirs as well.