Late in the second half of the Billikens season-establishing win over Louisiana State, the Bills were starting to lose momentum, and their lead was thinning.
After a 10-point half-time lead turned into one that could be lost on a single shot or possession, the strength of LSU’s outrageously talented offensive weapons were shining through and was turning the Billikens’ often well-respected defense into something that more resembled that of Swiss cheese.
But in those moments, something amazing happened.
You see, typically, Chaifetz Arena is one of the more advantageous arenas to play in for all of college basketball. Ken Pomeroy’s “Ken Pom” analytics metrics lists SLU’s home in midtown as the country’s 15th best home-court advantage. In a game like this one, playing a power 5 conference big shot and one of the best teams in the country, the home crowd would have been rocking from the tip-off to the final horn. The student section stomping, the band howling, and the Billiken faithful helping to will their team to a massive victory.
But not on this Saturday afternoon. On this day, the only crowd was a splattering of media that lined the concourse and a handful of athletic department employees who sat in the stand’s opposite of the benches about 15-20 rows back.
SLU Head Coach Travis Ford had opted not to go the route of filling the stadium with an artificial crowd noise that some other teams across sports had opted to use. When presented with examples of the potential crowds, Travis lamented that rather than being inspirational or poetically beneficial, the sounds that rang out of the speakers were more muffling and deafening and that the lack of a natural crowd din made the moments hollow and thus unfavorable.
“It seems kind of strange to me. It’s actually louder than a crowd. You can turn it down, but it’s non-stop.” Travis said before SLU’s season opener against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, “A crowd comes and goes, but this is just constant, not cheering but constant muffled noise with a few whistles here and there. It’s a weird deal.”
While there is credit due to the staff who were in attendance for giving it their all in terms of trying to voice the opinions of a crowd, rarely a play went by where one of those watching was shouting out looking for a foul call, or to claim a travel had taken place…the arena was silent. Every word from the benches could be heard. Every play call, every frustrated plead. When a player claimed he had gotten “all ball” on a block or steal attempt, everyone knew he was being dishonest due to the unique and ear-piercing sound that skin on skin contact makes.
So, in place of the traditional home crowd chant kicking into gear for key positions, the Billikens took it upon themselves to energize the guys on the floor.
“D-FENCE (stomp, stomp), D-FENSE (stomp, stomp)” came ringing from the Billiken bench. Everyone from the players, managers, trainers, administrators, and coaches joined in the team cheer. Chaifetz Arena became all of a sudden, instead of an empty bubble, filled with sound. For a brief moment, one could almost forget the extraordinary circumstances under which the game was being played.
As magical as the moment was, it turns out it was a by-product of alot of hard work behind the scenes. For days leading up to the Billiken classic, the SLU support staff fiddled with the right seating arrangement for how the bench would look and feel. Where each member of the team and staff would sit in proximity to Travis Ford or other teammates. The ultimate goal was to create a bench environment that would be conducive to the team remaining united while observing the NCAA’s Return to Play protocols.
The exact science behind the eventual arrangement continues to be tinkered with. The seating arrangement that was used for the LSU game was different from the one used for the season opener against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville.
The Billikens players and coaches all agree that they would much rather have fans in the stands and can’t wait for the day when they can host their faithful in a safe environment for everyone involved. But until that day comes, the Billikens are perfectly content being their own biggest cheerleaders. Fred Thatch, who missed the LSU game due to a knee sprain he got playing against SIU-E, said in the first press availability of the year that even with no fans, he doesn’t expect silence after big plays because “I know guys like (Jordan Goodwin) will still be loud as ever.”
2020 has been a dreary year for all. The days are now getting shorter, colder, and Covid-19 cases continue to rise. But the Billikens have the chance to have one of their greatest seasons in program history, and from the looks and sounds of things, they are perfectly content with locking in for 40 minutes a night, getting loud, and making their own magical memories, despite or maybe in spite of all the things happening around them.
Carter Chapley has burst onto the scene becoming one of the most trusted voices in Billikens Athletics and beyond for Scoops with Danny Mac.
Starting at the University News, Carter joined Scoops in 2019 and has provided coverage primarily on Saint Louis University Athletics, including Basketball, Soccer, and Baseball. He has also written on such major events as the NCAA Tournament, Arch Madness, the NHL All-Star Game, the founding of STL City FC, and the NCAA reaction to the Covid-19 Pandemic.
You can find Carter more on Twitter at @ChapleyMedia where he will always be talking Billikens, Sports, and More!