Student fan support above par after weekend tourney

With the name of my column, today's topic may very well be the most appropriate one I have ever written.

This weekend I covered the First Merchants Classic, an annual men's basketball tournament held by Ball State. A tournament which Ball State won.

It wasn't the 41-point victory over Elon that impressed me and it wasn't the 21-point win over Austin Peay that impressed me, either.

It was two other numbers that I was impressed with - 7,520 and 7,165, both attendance totals for Friday and Saturday night respectively.

There are two other numbers that impress me even more - 2,500 and 2,100, both student attendance for Friday and Saturday's games respectively, according Senior Associate Athletics Director, Dick Falls.

Not too shabby for the first home games of the season - granted those attendance numbers can be directly linked to that little thing called a ranking the men's team has picked up, now No. 15 in the AP poll. But regardless of the reasoning behind the numbers, I wasn't the only person who appreciated it.

I took a minute to talk to coach Tim Buckley about the student fans that attended the games this weekend and according to the second-year coach, he couldn't have been happier with the turnout.

"The student turnout was phenomenal," he said. "We want the students to know this is their basketball team. We want them to be a part of it.

"That's why we had out players go into the crowd after (Friday's) game. Our players were very appreciative of all the students coming here and making this a great atmosphere."

The student crowd serves more than sole purpose of cheering. The students serve as a great source of entertainment also. I have yelled some pretty interesting things at games before, but you wouldn't believe some of the things those guys in the front row yell.

Along with that entertainment comes the clothes and the signs.

As far as the clothes go, I saw a few Hawaiian shirts scattered throughout the crowd. A pretty good idea since that is where all the basketball success started this year.

But my favorite aspect was the signs. Despite feeling like I am sitting at a WWF Raw event, I love the signs.

My favorite was held up by a guy in the front row. His sign read, "Ball State v. Duke Rematch."

It wasn't just me who got a kick out of it, thought.

Buckley saw it. He saw it and liked it.

He simply smiled, said he "enjoyed" it and followed that by saying, "hopefully that will happen in Atlanta," referring to this year's NCAA final four location.

Another favorite for Buckley were the "buckheads." Self-named, the group came to the game wearing antlers. Yes, antlers. I suppose to fit in with the whole "buck" in "buckheads."

When I asked Buckley what was one thing that stood out in his mind the most from the student fans from this weekend, he first mentioned the "buckheads." The coach said the group even gave him his own pair of antlers. When asked if he would be wearing them to a game, he laughed and said his 5-year-old daughter may wear them because she liked them a lot.

With all the different aspects of the 2,000 strong student fan section each night, Buckley couldn't really pinpoint any particular favorite aspect of the boisterous group.

"I like the whole deal," Buckley said.

"The creativity is what is so exciting. The students make the game," he said. "Even thought the adults come and watch our team play and enjoy that, the entertainment value comes from the students (in the stands) and they are the ones that make it exciting."

So, to close for the week, I say, "Good job, students."

But hey, that sounds pretty cheesy if you ask me. And it's true, it's cheesy. But it's not too often I will write a completely positive, "go get 'em team" type column.

This week is an exception.

It is a fan base like we saw this weekend that will help keep Ball State basketball continue to be successful this year. Yes, we are ranked No. 15 now.

Lets be honest, we will probably lose sometime.

And it may be soon. There is a tough month of games ahead having to face teams like IU, Oklahoma State, Butler and Kent State. Trust me though, I think we can win all those games as much as the next fan.

One thing is for sure. I hope that that row of loud, boisterous guys sitting right behind me heckling the referee and cheering on Rob Robbins to shoot it as soon as he touches the ball, will stay.

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