In the span of just over two hours on Saturday night, I went from believing the RBC Center was the worst thing to ever happen to NC State basketball ... to believing – no, knowing – that the arena could be among the loudest in all of college basketball.
The attendance for the Wolfpack's now-classic game against Miami was sparse. The box score listed attendance at 12,000-plus brave souls who fought through the nasty inclement weather that would, a night later, do in the Barry Manilow concert. And for much of the game, the loudest reactions were the mock groans of despair when the public address announcer mentioned the crooner's cancellation during timeouts.
Speaking of, I'm not sure I've ever seen something so dramatically suck the life out of a college basketball atmosphere as the timeouts at the RBC Center. But I guess I'm funny that way. Instead of filling that time with cheerleaders getting the crowd involved, State fans instead must sit through a litany of paid advertisements, from Realtors to upcoming RBC Center concerts to whatever else can be hocked. I'm sure Frank Haith, Miami's head coach, had a hard time getting through to his team during timeouts as a commercial played and the cheerleaders stood awkwardly with their hands on their hips. (The 15 seconds or so that the pep band and the cheerleaders gave us was a solid 15 seconds, though.)
But something interesting happened as the game wore on. For one thing, the Pack hung around after giving up the lead, then managed to sneak into overtime with the No. 24 Hurricanes. Then, when all hope seemed lost, the improbable happened. J.J. Hickson followed Gavin Grant's missed layup with 11 seconds left in overtime to tie the game at 77-all. Then, Grant stole the inbounds pass from the Canes and finished an improbably 7-1 run in the final 27 seconds to win the game.
And bedlam ensued. The RBC Center was -- dare I say? -- rocking.
I remember thinking as the players celebrated, "I wonder how the crowd noise compares to when the real Hurricanes were in the Stanley Cup finals?"
Truth be told, there haven't exactly been that many monumental, roof-blowing wins for the Pack in the RBC Center in its life span. But what the win against Miami showed me was that all it takes is enthusiasm and working-order vocal chords to make it a good building for basketball. An exciting finish doesn't hurt, but it shouldn't have to take that to make the RBC Center an intimidating place for visitors.
One person who noticed was Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, whose Yellow Jackets face the Pack tonight.
"I watched the end of the game and obviously those guys made great plays for N.C. State but that crowd was outstanding," he told WRAL-TV. "N.C. State, they've always done a great job in terms of their fans circling around their players and giving them a little extra enthusiasm."
Perhaps, but more could be done. The commercials don't necessarily have to go (they help pay bills, I'm told), but that doesn't mean the fans shouldn't start their own cheers while the cheerleaders politely wait for an ad to finish. And if a large portion of the fans don't show up, let others move down to fill their seats. (After all, time and time again the upper reaches of the arena are more full than the lower bowl.)
And one more thing: Keep winning, Wolfpack. That's the most important ingredient of all.