Friday, December 3, 2010

Rowdy crowd, Jalin Thomas keeps Chippewas in game for first half

By Anthony Fenech, Senior Reporter || December 3, 2010

The ball left his hand, not unlike the hundreds of times it left his hand before, from the left wing just beyond the three-point arc.

It left his hand, not unlike the previous 72 three-point attempts in Jalin Thomas’ Central Michigan career, and found the basket, not unlike his previous 23 three-point field goals as a Chippewa.

It was midway through the second half of Wednesday’s McGuirk Arena-opening game against Temple, and Thomas’ sixth triple of the game had just given the Chippewas a four-point lead in front of a sold-out home crowd and its raucous Rowdies.

The senior forward backpedaled across half-court, not unlike a countless number of times before, and threw his hands in the air – up-and-down, up-and-down – urging a pulsating population to get up and keep it up.

It was an emotion unlike anything he’s experienced before.

“I’ve never played in an arena like that,” he said afterwards, after the four-point lead disappeared, after a four-point deficit appeared, and after the crazy crowd had quieted and filed out of the first basketball game played at McGuirk Arena, a 65-53 defeat to the Owls.

“It was great,” he continued. “Just having all the fans there supporting us, I loved it. The new arena is great and it’s real noisy.”

And Thomas did his best to deliver the fans a housewarming win, scoring a game-high 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting from the floor and connecting on six of eight three-pointers.

“I think it affected the tempo at first,” Thomas said, “We came out and gave them a good run, it’s just disappointing that we weren’t able to finish it off.”

But despite the game’s outcome, the 5,350 in attendance came out, gave it a good run and finished it off as students in two sections stood until the final buzzer, creating a gameday atmosphere that head coach Ernie Zeigler described in one word.

“Electric,” he said. “It was electric. It was something to be a part of.”

It was something, the fifth-year head coach said, that he saw only once before on the Chippewas sidelines, when last year, a senior-laden team departed with an emotional Senior Day win against Western Michigan in the final game at Rose Arena.

“That was probably the only other thing that compares,” he said.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the inaugural game began off the court with a light-cutting introduction that included spotlights, smoke and a student section serenade of “Who Cares” for the five Temple starters.

And on the court, the game began went off without a hitch as the Chippewas stormed to a seven-point lead just two minutes in and took an eight-point lead into the break.

“I think so,” Zeigler said about the team feeding off the crowd energy early on, “We just weren’t able to sustain it.”

“When we were going well in the first half, even early there in the second,” he said, “There was electricity there.”

But the electricity is something Zeigler hopes to sustain over the duration of the regular season, beginning with a Jan. 9 game against Toledo.

“Hopefully we can make a plea to our student section,” he said, “To come out in the same fashion when they come back for the second semester.”

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