CINCINNATI - Through all the punches thrown, the shoves distributed and the words had, the Xavier Musketeers put on quite a show in routing the Cincinnati Bearcats 76-53 Saturday at the 79th annual Crosstown Shootout.
But the Musketeers' supreme backcourt performance and Kenny Frease's 110 percent effort were out-shined by the brawl that ensued with merely 9 seconds to play. I wish this article was about Frease's four blocks and double-double, but instead it's about him being doubly attacked.
What actually went down? Here's my best shot at explaining it, with a bird's eye view from section 208.
Yes, both teams were jawing at each other the entire game. But let me stop the uninformed national audience there, trash talk is no rarity at the Crosstown Shootout.
In fact, that's why they call it "bragging rights." When you are winning or you win the Crosstown Shootout, you and your team have the right to talk all you want; to brag, as the phrase goes.
So for those who are blaming the referees for not stepping in earlier because of the trash talk, put that argument to rest. Jawing, which has become the most used term in news coverage the past 72 hours, is normal for this game, and it's been encouraged by fans, players and yes, the media. Just ask Sean Kilpatrick, who had his words in before the game even began, saying after being provoked by a radio host that Tu Holloway wouldn't start for UC.
And yes, Holloway was yapping at UC's bench in his final career Crosstown Shootout. Step back in time to last year's UC victory in blow out fashion 66-46. Were the Bearcats yelling slurs and inappropriate references about players' moms? Of course they were (I was live for that one too, section 113).
But this time it crossed the verbal line. Maybe Xavier's senior leader did say a bit too much, enough to really boil the Bearcats bench, but it was three young freshmen that caused the top of the pot to pop off.
Bearcats freshman guard Ge'Lawn Guyn broke the cardinal rule of basketball, you don't put your hands on the other team when it's not related to the play at hand.
So when Guyn got into Holloway's face after he visibly said something to both him and the UC bench with 9.4 to go, another freshman escalated the situation. Xavier guard Dez Wells shoved Guyn to the ground with all his might.
The line had been crossed, and off came freshman Octavious Ellis from UC's bench throwing the first punch at Wells and Holloway.
All of the elation that came with a well-played basketball game by the hometown XU team came crashing down.
With 30 seconds to go, the people around me at the game were all clapping feverishly, excited about their soon to be 23-point win, and the bragging rights to say to the many UC fans they know that XU was on top, for this year at least.
We had plans of celebrating afterward, heading somewhere to raise a glass in accomplishment, washing away last year's 20-point XU loss.
But with 9.4 seconds left, three freshmen ruined those plans.
As the scuffle ensued, it was obvious who the villains were. Kenny Frease, just trying to form a 7-foot barrier between teams, was struck un-instigated by 260-pound Yancy Gates. Gates, a senior, proceeded to do the same to Tu Holloway, who had thrown no punches, just a shove away from those trying to strike him and his teammates. Gates stood in front of XU, almost as if they were an invading army into Sparta. For what reason has yet to be seen, but the look on his face was almost demonic.
Further into the fisticuffs, UC forward Cheikh Mbodj quite literally kicked a man while he was down, stomping on an already ambushed Frease, who fell to the ground following Gates' punch. Frease scurried away from the mob on his knees, got up, only to lay back down, blood flowing from his forehead, in the middle of the X at center court.
And Guyn got his licks in the heat of the moment after being knocked over too, arbitrarily chasing after Brad Redford, who was at the time away from the scuffle, with Guyn attempting to inflict harm on him for no apparent reason other than wanting to fight. Redford hadn't even been involved in the altercation, but Guyn, with adrenaline flowing, rushed at him.
But Xavier is not innocent. Dez Wells didn't just escalate the physicality, but came in swinging at several Bearcats with very intentional punches.
Mark Lyons wasn't much better. Swinging in the same manner as Wells upon realizing a brawl had broken out.
And Xavier sophomore Landen Amos, who hasn't played a minute all season, never mind in this game, exacerbated the situation by continuing to advance physically on UC's players after a barrier between the two teams had seemingly been formed, allowing Gates to have his last swing.
Several others scuffled, but most refrained from punches, seeking only to separate the angered college students on the floor.
It was at this point that the crowd had grown angry, with boos and sounds of embarrassed astonishment echoing throughout the arena.
The teams were separated, and eventually UC was ushered
off the court to the locker room to the chorus of negative comments.
The crowd then turned to support, and being XU fans in the majority, chants of "Let's go Muskies!" rang out as a bloodied Kenny Frease flaunted his wounds around the entirety of the court.
Holloway jumped up on to the official's table to spur on the chants with many inappropriate gestures, and the crowd carried louder as he did. The small band of UC fans behind their bench began cursing at the team and the injured Frease as he passed by, blood streaming as his screams rang out back at them.
And following the game there were no fights in the parking lot to be seen, no cuss words exchanged, just utter shock and embarrassment for both sides' fans. Sure the XU students were rowdy, but the closest fans got to crossing the line was a soda cup thrown by some Bearcats fans at Xavier players while they flaunted around the court following the fray.
So who or what is to blame?
One could say the coaches for not regulating their own players, but they aren't able to hear all that is going on on the floor, and Mick Cronin seems to have done all he could to alert officials to the escalating situation, both trying to call timeout in the final seconds and communicating the trash talk.
One could say the officials for not regulating the trash talk, but not only is that part of this rivalry contest, the officials assigned to the game had never regulated an XU-UC match, and thus weren't educated into what they were getting in to or when to draw the line.
One could say it was the freshmen who are to be blamed, but senior Gates and juniors Mbodj and Lyons are just as responsible, and it seems those freshmen weren't filled in as to the "don't throw punches" rule.
It seems a little education of what it means to be, in the words of Tu Holloway, a "gangster on the court" at the Crosstown Shootout is necessary. A sit down with each team and the officials involved prior to the heated matchup to explain that there will be words, and there will be bumps, but under no circumstances should anything like this happen (cue the feud video from Dec. 10, 2011).
One could say it doesn't matter, and that both teams acted in an embarrassing fashion, each player deserving of every game they were suspended and then some.
And the apologies have been issued, hopefully well received by not just XU and UC fans, but by the whole nation.
From a fan's perspective, it was embarrassing, a little bit scary and a total let down to an otherwise fantastic basketball game for the Xavier Musketeers.
Should the game be played again? Absolutely. This basketball is the best basketball, played with every ounce of heart and sweat that each competitor has.
Should it be more closely watched? Without question. There needs to be an understanding of the culture of this game, as University of Cincinnati Athletic Director Whit Babcock said in a press conference Monday. Jawing, as we've so encouragingly called it, can be cut down on, but never to the calm point that might prevent this from ever happening again because as Mick Cronin said, "to the victor go the spoils."
Were you at the game? How did you see things? Share in the comments section below or on our WCPO Facebook page .