Reusse: Wednesday's game accentuates Hamline's problems

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2013 - 7:04 AM

On Wednesday night, the Pipers returned to the basketball court minus their coach and six players, who are still suspended after a New Year's Eve incident in Washington.

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The Hamline bench reacted to a play in the first half during a game vs. St. Olaf on Wednesday night.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

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Hamline opened a fieldhouse in 1937 that included a basketball court surrounded by a cinder track, squash courts, locker rooms and a balcony for spectators.

There was also a large apartment where basketball coach Joe Hutton Sr. and his family resided.

All these years later, the bones of this historic place remain the same, and it goes by Hutton Arena -- in honor of Joe's 35 seasons (1930-65) and grand success as the coach of the Pipers.

On Wednesday night, the current Pipers returned to the home court for an MIAC game, without their coach, Nelson Whitmore, and without six players.

All were serving school-mandated suspensions following an incident early on the morning of Jan. 1 in Spokane, Wash. Hamline freshman Eugene Lawrence allegedly punched 20-year-old Kayla Bray, sending her to the hospital with a broken jaw.

Lawrence was jailed on a second-degree assault charge, released on $5,000 bail and, for now, is back home in New Orleans.

Hamline returned from the two-game trip to Washington state and played at Macalester on Jan. 2. The Hamline version is that full details of the assault in Spokane were not available and that's why the game was played.

The lack of full details could be part of the reason for Whitmore's suspension. It's impossible to know for sure.

Hamline officials released a statement Friday, announcing: Whitmore's indefinite suspension as coach, the varied suspensions of 14 of the remaining players and the forfeit of Saturday's game at Gustavus Adolphus.

The suspensions will be spaced so that the Pipers can field a representative team. On Wednesday, starters Tyler Pannell and Noah Aguirre, and reserves Marshall Jestings, Austin Johnson, Charlie Choiniere and Jordan Sayers were in civilian clothes.

Since Friday's statement, the school has been silent, refusing again Wednesday to give an update on Whitmore's long-term status or the plan for the remainder of this basketball season.

There was a good turnout of students -- particularly those that are members of Hamline's other athletic teams.

The student athletes in attendance did not seem interested in commenting on last week's ugly happening. A trackster named Sarah said, "No, sorry,'' and hurried away with two friends when asked her reaction to the reports on what took place in Spokane.

Another woman, Signe, took note of the sizable crowd and said: "Word must have gotten around campus to be at the game tonight and show support. I appreciate that, since my boyfriend is on the team.''

Jason Verdugo, 37, athletic director and baseball coach, took the duty as basketball coach. Mike Campbell, in his first season as an assistant, was also on the sideline.

Verdugo was asked pregame when he last coached basketball, and he said: "I was the coach at McClintock High School [in Tempe, Ariz.] in 2001. We went to the state tournament.''

Hamline had 12 players in uniform and three of its regular starters: Dior Ford, Victor Easter and Wesley Pinera. Ford was featuring a thick, maroon Mohawk in the midst of his black hair -- a trademark for the 6-5 sophomore from Tucson, Ariz.

The Pipers pushed to a 56-44 lead with 7 1/2 minutes to go. The student section was rowdy and Hamline appeared ready to go to 4-3 (including its forfeit) in the MIAC.

Slowly, Hamline allowed St. Olaf to creep back into the game. Ford went to the line and made two free throws with 9 seconds left. That gave him a career-high 26 points and made it 73-70, Pipers.

St. Olaf's Nathan Kuck chucked up a three before the buzzer. A late-arriving defender was called for a foul.

The shot went down to tie it with 0.2 seconds left. Kuck made the free throw after two Hamline timeouts. Oles 74, Pipers 73.

Verdugo had the task of offering postgame encouragement to a group of athletes that he knew previously only as AD, not as a coach.

"There was a tremendous amount of tension tonight, for a number of reasons,'' Verdugo said later, in an interview in his office. "I'm sure there were some people hopeful they would see a negative reaction.

"I told the players to hold their heads high and conduct themselves appropriately. I thought they did a great job with that.

"I was impressed with the camaraderie of the players. They were helping each other, coaching each other. I was proud of them.''

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. preusse@startribune.com

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