In addition to suffering its first Big 12 loss at eighth-ranked Texas Tech on Saturday afternoon, second-ranked West Virginia endured one final insult on the way off the court.
Some of the Mountaineers couldn’t escape the floor in time to avoid being caught up in the tidal wave of Red Raiders fans who flooded the court after their team’s 72-71 victory.
Videos of the court storming appear to show sophomore forward Wesley Harris throwing a punch at a fan who bumped into him as he tried to make his way to the West Virginia bench. Other Mountaineers players also engaged in some more minor pushing and shoving immediately afterward.
Here’s one video of the incident:
A West Virginia player threw a punch at a fan after the Texas Tech crowd stormed the court pic.twitter.com/rVfA0J2uRv
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) January 14, 2018
I guess Wesley Harris #21 and @sagaba50 #50 from @WVUhoops were a little bitter after tonight’s loss to @TexasTechMBB Swinging at fans on the court @Big12Conference @espn #wreckem #gunsup #ttu #wvu pic.twitter.com/cpTdNolmVX
— Steven Gutierrez (@stevenjee10) January 14, 2018
It’s unclear what if any punishment Harris or his teammates will face as a result of their behavior. West Virginia issued a statement Sunday that said, “We have been in contact with the Big 12 Conference and Texas Tech and are gathering information regarding yesterday’s court storming in Lubbock.” A Big 12 spokesperson said Sunday that the conference “is following the protocols established in its Sportsmanship and Ethical Conduct policy.”
The Big 12’s policy prohibits athletes from committing “verbally or physically abusive acts” toward fans but also indicates member institutions are responsible for keeping visiting teams safe. Mentioned specifically is the importance of having a protocol for “safely escorting teams, coaches, officials and administrative staffs off the playing surface, particularly in the event of a post-game celebration.”
Among the penalties the Big 12 may impose include “private and public reprimand, institutional fines, and suspension from practice and/or competition.”
Saturday’s controversy will surely reignite the annual debate over whether court storming has a place in college basketball. It’s a discussion worth having considering some of the dangerous incidents that have occurred in recent years.
In Jan. 2013, NC State forward C.J. Leslie had to lift Will Privette to safety after the senior was thrown from his wheelchair during the court storming that followed the Wolfpack’s upset of Duke. In Feb. 2014, a melee erupted at Utah Valley when New Mexico State players exchanged punches with on-rushing fans just after the final buzzer. In Feb. 2015, a knucklehead Kansas State rushed at Kansas forward Jamari Traylor and body checked him on his way off the floor and another Wildcats supporter taunted several Jayhawks players until a Kansas assistant intervened.
The most severe court storming injury of all came in Feb. 2004 when an avalanche of Tucson High students spilled onto the court after 6-foot-6 senior Joe Kay clinched a rivalry victory with a two-handed breakaway dunk. The torn carotid artery and stroke Kay suffered that day left him paralyzed on one side and robbed him of many of the gifts that enabled him to become the valedictorian of his class, win awards for his saxophone skills and earn a volleyball scholarship to Stanford.
“My injuries are something I’ll have to deal with the rest of my life,” Kay told Yahoo Sports in 2014. “If court-storming didn’t exist, or if none of the people at my high school had ever really seen it on TV, it probably never would have happened. People claim it’s a tradition but we shouldn’t have tradition if it’s unsafe. It doesn’t make sense.”
While there’s no excuse for Harris losing his cool and striking a fan after he was bumped, Texas Tech is hardly blameless here.
It wasn’t that difficult to predict a success-starved fan base would rush the floor after beating the No. 2 team in the country. Texas Tech needed to have a greater courtside security presence to ensure the West Virginia players time to exit the floor safely.
The only good news to emerge from Saturday’s incident is that it appears nobody was seriously hurt. That’s never a guarantee when you combine fans celebrating a marquee victory over a conference rival and players still emotional over a tough loss seconds after the final buzzer.
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