There’s nothing like a good bit of competitiveness to get a sports team pumped up.
But Xavier and Cincinnati basketball players took the sentiment a little far during their Saturday game, which ended in a mass brawl, slashed faces–and potential match bans.
Xavier beat Cincinnati 76-53 in the game that featured a steady exchange of venomous words–the latest altercation in a crosstown rivalry spanning decades.
There were just 9.4 seconds left on the clock when a few shoves between players sparked the all-out brawl.
Players jumped from the benches to square up with their rivals.
Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates threw a punch at Xavier centre Kenny Frease, splitting his left cheek. Knocked to the ground, Frease was then kicked by Cincinnati’s Cheikh Mbodj.
Coaches from both teams tried to yank their players out of the fight.
Suspensions are expected after videotapes of the match are reviewed by athletic bodies the Atlantic 10 and the Big East.
A few hours after the game, the Atlantic 10 announced Gates, Mbodj and Wells were listed as ejected, indicating their actions were deemed the most severe.
‘There’s no excuse for any of them, on our side, on their side,’ Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin told the Associated Press. ‘Guys need to grow up.
‘There is zero excuse for that in basketball. You’ve got to learn how to win on one side, you’ve got to learn how to lose on the other side.’
The brawl was the culmination of jibes exchanged as teams passed each other on court throughout the match.
Xavier’s Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway had yelled at Cincinnati players, igniting the free-for-all.
Holloway, the Atlantic 10’s player of the year, said the fight started after his teammates felt disrespected.
‘I was just saying it’s my city right here,’ Holloway said. ‘I’m cut from a different cloth. None of them guys on that team is like me.
‘I felt disrespected for them guys to come at me and talk like that, so I let the whole staff over there and let their players know that none of them is like me. That’s when it started.’
Both coaches expressed disappointment at how the players had behaved. They said they were unsure which of their players would be suspended.
‘It was such a melee,’ Xavier coach Chris Mack told AP. ‘We were just trying to separate players and it becomes chaotic in there.’
‘It’s disappointing. We’re all competitors. We all played our hearts out. This game means so much. There’s a lot of pressure on both teams to win it. For it to play itself out like it did at the end, I don’t know another word other than disappointing.’
Cincinnati’s coach Cronin told his players to remove their jerseys after the game as they were a poor representation of their school.
University of Cincinnati President Gregory H. Williams issued a statement agreeing he was ‘extremely disappointed’ with their conduct.
‘I appreciate Coach Cronin’s strong postgame comments, and I want to support his position that this behaviour is not what we expect of representatives of the University of Cincinnati,’ Williams said.
‘We will thoroughly investigate this incident and will act swiftly and firmly. We hold our student-athletes to a high standard, and this behaviour will not be tolerated.’
Xavier President Rev. Michael J. Graham said in a statement: ‘This behavior was not representative of Xavier’s standards and has no place in intercollegiate athletics.’
Rivalry between the two Cincinnati-based teams has spanned decades.
In 1994, after a Xavier win, Cincinnati coach Bob Huggins refused to shake Xavier coach Pete Gillen’s hand. Gillen called Huggins a ‘cheater’, with Huggins responding that Gillen was a ‘phony’.
In 1967, Xavier’s Joe Pangrazio grabbed a crutch from a fan in the stands and threw it at Cincinnati’s Raleigh Wynn. Both players were ejected as fans hurled debris onto the court.
Holloway added it was not the first time the crosstown rivals had exchanged venomous words.
‘That’s what you’re going to see from Xavier and Cincinnati,’ he said. ‘We got disrespected a little bit before the game, guys calling us out.
‘We’re a tougher team. We’re grown men over here. We’ve got a whole bunch of gangsters in the locker room–not thugs, but tough guys on the court. And we went out there and zipped them up at the end of the game.’