Utah Valley-New Mexico State brawl a warning sign on court storming
Storming the court is fun. Storming the court often enough gets you on television. This more or less is why anyone anywhere storms a court: It is a harmless lark devoid of true meaning.
Rarely has it been the way it was on Thursday night in Orem, Utah: Ugly, brutish and dangerous, with real punches thrown and the threat of injury rearing up. New Mexico State’s KC Ross-Miller cocked his arm and spiked a ball off the leg of Utah Valley’s Holton Hunsaker as time expired. As the tension erupted immediately, fans entered the playing surface. If all hell didn’t exactly break loose, one neighborhood of it did. Players took swings, fans shoved Aggies players, and peacekeepers desperately entered the maw to pull everyone out of harm’s way.
Anyone wanting to excise the court storm from college basketball completely — Won’t somebody think of the children?!? — now has Exhibit A. There was an issue with player safety here, because there was no player safety here. Given the context of every other court storm that didn’t require ringside judges, and given the culpability of the players here, it’s a bit hysterical to consider the issue at its tipping point.
It’s not as hysterical to consider how it can get worse from here and how to prevent that from happening.
But first, a problem with using The Attack In The WAC in an anti-court storm screed: The players started it, or at least one of them did. Remove every soul from the arena and have Ross-Miller throw the ball at Hunsaker like it was recess dodgeball. See if all parties would leave the court with a collective Why I never and not a fist or two balled and aimed at a face. Or, at minimum, an escalation of hostility in what was already a pressure-packed game for the league lead.
That’s why New Mexico State suspended Ross-Miller on Friday and coach Marvin Menzies issued a statement that in part read: “No matter what provoked KC, what he did was inexcusable and hence the suspension.” If he doesn’t strike the match, it’s in all likelihood a non-event, just another fleet of fans dancing on a floor.
Yet it can’t be ignored that those fans were tinder a little brushfire didn’t need, and a bad situation got worse. After the infamous shove-a-fan episode involving Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, the safety issue that concerned most coaches was what security was on hand to ward off court-stormers — how to shield players from fans entering the playing surface, not how to control the players potentially leaving it.
One regrettable episode Thursday night doesn’t seem enough to ban court storms completely. It might be enough to reassess the measures already in place to protect the visiting team, including additional security that holds off the fans — if that’s even possible — until potentially aggravated players have left the court. Because if you’re going to permit court storms, what happened at Utah Valley is an unsurprising consequence, if not an eventuality.