Mayhem at the Chace Center

Will Denio, Lion’s Roar Staff

Mayhem+at+the+Chace+Center

On Tuesday night, the Bryant Men’s Basketball team punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament with a 70-43 victory over the Wagner College Seahawks. The conference tournament win did not come without a drama-filled night. 

     In Smithfield, the Bulldogs looked to advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in Division One program history. Bryant entered the game as the number one seed in the conference, securing home-court advantage in the championship. The Seahawks of Wagner marched in scorching hot after rolling through the quarter and semifinals with an average victory margin of 24.5 points. The Bulldogs came out of the gates on fire, hitting nearly everything they shot. Wagner on the other hand, could not get anything to fall, starting the game shooting an embarrassing 2-14. Bryant was in control the entire game, and Bryant’s Peter Kiss capped off a run with a reverse dunk on a fastbreak, bringing the score to 36-6. Kiss showed the nation why he’s NCAA’s leading scorer, slicing the nets with 34 points in the victory. Kiss and his backcourt companion, Charles Pride, combined for 47 points, decimating the hopes of Wagner fans. Pride backed his 13 points with an impressive 17 rebounds. The game was out of hand within the first 10 minutes of play, and the Bulldogs never looked back. 

     Bryant’s success has not gone unnoticed, and the fan support has been there. The Chace Center was sold out for the fourth time in a row on Tuesday night. Kiss, known for his confident play, had been taunting and celebrating after most plays. With the energy that Kiss brought, the Bryant student section got fired up and created a potentially hostile environment. 

     Wagner sent multiple buses of fans, including friends, family members and the pep band. The Wagner fans were seated next to the Bryant students, separated by a thin yellow rope. After going up by over 20 points, the Bryant student section started chanting and taunting the Wagner team and fans. The energy was tense throughout the entire game, and you could tell there was a certain energy in the crowd and on the court. 

     Between the taunting and other unknown causes, the hostility soon became physical. During a media timeout with four minutes to go, a number of Wagner fans went up into the Bryant student section, starting an altercation that escalated quickly. Before anyone even realized what was happening, drinks and punches were being thrown. Heads started to turn, and all eyes were on the far end of the bleachers. When Wagner players saw what was happening, a few of them tried to get into the bleachers to defend their fans who were most likely their family and friends. The Wagner and Bryant fans started throwing water bottles, beers, and even chairs at each other. The two teams were ushered into their respective locker rooms, and the Bryant Department of Public Safety Staff tried to regain control of the atmosphere. Bryant University Athletic Director Bill Smith took to the PA system to announce that everyone should return to their seats, and calm down. The announcement was not effective as there was still pushing and shoving going on between the two sections. A plethora of police officers were then called in, ranging from town to town, in hopes to calm down the fans and get the game to resume. Just as it seemed that the fighting was fizzling out, someone would throw an object and get it going again. Eventually, the Bryant DPS and the neighboring police departments were able to usher out the fans that were involved. Once the involved were removed, Athletic Director Bill Smith took to the mic again, announcing that the entire Wagner section minus close relatives, would be taken out of the Chace Center. He also stated that if the Bryant fans continued their bad behavior, they too would be removed. Once the section was cleared out, the state and town police officers created a barrier between the Bryant students and the remaining Wagner fans. 

     After over thirty minutes of delay, the Bulldogs and Seahawks entered back onto the floor. It was announced that Wagner Guard Will Martinez was ejected from the rest of the game because video footage saw him leave the court and attempt to get into the stands. Without one of their starting players, and down by over 25 points, the Wagner Seahawks finished out the final four minutes, ending in a crushing 70 to 43 defeat. Following a dominating performance, victory was awarded to the Bulldogs, and the celebrations began. The Bryant Student section stormed the court, embracing their fellow classmates and their success. The Bulldogs finished their strong season in the best way possible, cutting down the nets, and going to the Big Dance. 

     The conflict had started well before tip-off, as Bryant students lined up to yell at Wagner players the day prior when they arrived for their shoot-around. Due to the heckling, Wagner was forced to do their shoot-around and walk-through at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence. The Bryant Administration knew there was tension between the two teams. Unfortunately, the Chace Center is not large enough to separate the fan sections effectively, and Bryant did all they could to prevent a conflict. 

     The North East Conference President, Noreen Morris, was in attendance on Tuesday night and revealed that the conference was launching a full investigation into the brawl. In a statement released to the press, Morris said, “I’m disgusted that on a day we were all here to celebrate NEC men’s basketball, it was marred by the actions of supporters who didn’t respect the game and the hard work these two teams put forth to get to the championship.” Along with the conference, Bryant University announced that they are also launching a full investigation, and all those who were involved will receive punishment.    

     After a devastating conference championship loss last season, Peter Kiss and Charles Pride stayed up till 2:30 a.m. shooting on the rims without nets. It is safe to say that the team was fueled by last year’s loss, and their hard work paid off. Unfortunately, the Bulldog’s victory was overshadowed by the horrendous behavior displayed by fans. However, the team accomplished what they set out to do, and will represent Rhode Island in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history.