A wild postgame brawl following a contentious game between Utah Valley and New Mexico State highlighted the risks involved when fans and players collide.
New Mexico State suspended guard K.C. Ross-Miller indefinitely for his role and the Western Athletic Conference could impose additional discipline following its review of the melee in Orem, Utah, on Thursday night.
Ross-Miller hurled the ball at Utah Valley’s Holton Hunsaker seconds after the Wolverines’ 66-61 victory over the Aggies. The ball hit Hunsaker – the son of Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker – in the leg. Some of the fans that stormed the court following the victory got caught up in the chaos and punches were thrown.
New Mexico State guard DK Eldridge was in the middle of the scrum before he was dragged away by Aggies coaches as order was restored. With the victory, the Wolverines claimed the top spot in the conference standings.
While the brawl was touched off by Ross-Miller’s actions, it sparked renewed debate about player and fan interactions, and the dangers posed when fans rush the court. It was one of several incidents involving fans and players or coaches in recent months.
Oklahoma State All-American guard Marcus Smart charged into the stands at Texas Tech on Feb. 8 and shoved a fan who called him a “piece of crap.” Smart was suspended for three games and the fan later apologized.
Also in February, Oregon coach Dana Altman expressed concerns about safety after two of his staffers said an Arizona State student spit at them at halftime of a game in Tempe, Ariz. Ducks guard Jason Calliste had a verbal confrontation with at least one student late in the first half.
The NCAA does not have national rules regarding fans rushing the court because conference offices oversee regular season rules in basketball, including discipline.
The SEC does ban the practice, imposing a $5,000 fine on the school for the first offense, and as much as $50,000 for subsequent infractions.
Reggie Minton, deputy executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, said his organization has discussed the issue in the past and it will be taken up again at meetings in April.
“The main concern is for the safety of the visiting players and coaching staff. Rushing the court almost always comes after a key victory or upset by the home team and there are people rushing the court who may or may not understand what sportsmanship is about,” Minton said.
“We need to explore ways to eliminate the risk to the players, coaches and staff on the court,” he added. “Every school should have a plan in place for end of game situations and make sure there is sufficient security and staff available to take control.”
Before the WAC weighed in on additional penalties, New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said he suspended Ross-Miller indefinitely pending review by the school and the conference. The junior starter averages 8.3 points, 2.2 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
“No matter what provoked K.C. what he did was inexcusable and hence the suspension. It is an honor and a privilege to wear an Aggie uniform and a responsibility comes with that privilege,” Menzies said in a statement Friday.
WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd was expected to speak Friday with Menzies about the incident.
“I don’t like to use military terms, but that was combative,” Dick Hunsaker told the Utah Valley student newspaper. Utah Valley officials would not comment about the matter when reached by The Associated Press.
The Wolverines did issue a brief statement via Twitter: “The incident following Thursday’s game was an unfortunate and sour endnote to an otherwise brilliant performance by both teams. The Western Athletic Conference and both universities are reviewing the incident and gathering information. Any questions should be directed to the WAC office.”
The game between the WAC co-leaders at the UCCU center was attended by a season-high 4,954 fans.
Aggies guard Daniel Mullings later told Menzies he was hit by a fan in the postgame melee, and a Utah Valley student claimed that he was slugged in the head by an Aggies player. However, no injuries were reported.
“I would like to commend my staff for their immediate reaction to engage our players and remove them from the floor. We are currently reviewing several sources of video to accurately assess the situation,” Menzies said. “Obviously this was a very unfortunate incident and I’m hopeful that we can learn from it moving forward.”
Utah Valley (17-10, 11-3) is atop the WAC standings going into Saturday’s home game against Texas Pan-American. New Mexico State (21-9, 10-4) visits Bakersfield on Saturday.