College basketball didn’t need this. The 2019-20 season was already tough for casual fans to watch with the absence of dominant teams or a transcendent player like Zion Williamson, the revolving door at No. 1 and the inconsistency of most Top 25 teams, especially on the road.
Then there was Tuesday night’s Fight at the Fieldhouse — Allen Fieldhouse to be exact.
The home of the storied Kansas Jayhawks men’s basketball program became the scene of arguably the ugliest incident in the college game since the FBI recruiting fraud scandal a few years ago. Interestingly, KU was involved in that, too.
But unlike the widespread recruiting scandal, the punishment was seemingly just and swift.
Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa was the primary instigator of the bench-clearing brawl when he blocked a shot and stood over Kansas State’s DaJuan Gordon in the waning seconds of an 81-60 win. De Sousa received the harshest discipline with a 12-game suspension by the Big 12 office Wednesday. He also was suspended indefinitely by coach Bill Self. Three other players were suspended as well: Kansas State’s James Love (eight games) and Antonio Gordon (three) and Kansas center David McCormack (two).
The videos and images circulating on social media of De Sousa holding up a stool to potentially use as a weapon, with a spectator hanging on to his ankle, will likely haunt fans and college hoops observers the rest of the year.
But how did it get that far and what could’ve been done to stop it? Well, the first answer is not a popular take. This isn’t the first time players got into a scuffle and embarrassed themselves, their coaches, universities and fan bases. It probably won’t be the last. But the punishments send an eye-opening message that players need to think before they react that blindly in the heat of the moment.
Tempers flaring during sports competition is nothing new. Not having teammates, coaches and even security helping deflate the situation is disturbing in this case.
“You hate to see it certainly,” Gophers coach Richard Pitino said. “I don’t know exactly what transpired. I know it’s a big rivalry. It’s not good for anybody. It’s certainly not good for our sport in general to have that happen.”
Two seasons ago, Alabama had to finish a game 3-on-5 in a loss to the Gophers in Brooklyn. The Crimson Tide was trash talking with Minnesota all game, and its entire bench got ejected after the players ran onto the floor during a shoving match between two players on a rebound in the second half. It happened right in front of Alabama’s bench, so it was probably difficult for those players to show restraint. That’s no excuse, though.
Pitino said Gophers director of basketball Ryan Livingston does a great job in those situations to keep his players on the sideline. In a home win last week against Penn State, Gophers star Daniel Oturu got caught up in verbal exchanges with Nittany Lions forward Lamar Stevens and others.
Oturu fired back with harsh words in the postgame handshake line. But none of the players put a hand on one another. Teammates made sure of that, which should’ve happened at Kansas.
“I didn’t get to watch the whole game,” Gophers guard Marcus Carr said. “I don’t know what those guys were saying to each other. Basketball sometimes in the heat of the moment some things happen. Just me personally, being a captain, I try to defuse the situation.”
Pitino told his team after the Penn State game that “he who angers you owns you,” borrowing a line from Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers. Those are good words for all players to remember.
“I’m not one of these coaches to say nothing ever bad happens,” Pitino said. “You’ve got young kids. You can try to educate them as much as you can to act the right way, to make sure things don’t escalate to a certain point. I’m sure that all those kids at Kansas-Kansas State are very remorseful of it. It’s just a bad look, obviously.”