NEW ORLEANS – Senior guard Jamel Outler fell to the ground and buried his head in his jersey after a loss to Texas State University cut the men’s basketball season short Thursday in New Orleans.
But around him stood more than 50 screaming students draped in blue and orange T-shirts, band members and cheerleaders to support UTA and Outler’s final game as a Maverick.
“It’s always nice to experience a different environment than the home games just to gain a better knowledge of what the players go through because they’re always traveling, so its awesome to give them support,” said Anisha John, captain of the Wranglers and social work senior.
The men's and women’s basketball team competed as No. 5 seeds in the 2015 Sun Belt Conference Championship Tournament at Lakefront Arena this week, but both teams were eliminated in the first round to in-state rival Texas State.
Athletics director Jim Baker said there was about a handful more students in the stands compared to last year’s tournament and an increase in fan involvement is just what the Sun Belt is aiming for.
“We’ve had more fans here this year than we did last year, but we still need to get more,” Baker said. “That’s the thing about New Orleans. What they want to do is build a destination city. It’s nice during spring break, so we want to get more students and fans here.”
The conference allowed any student within the 11-team league free admission as part of a promotion to establish New Orleans as a base for the championships.
Also joining the Wranglers and the UTA band and spirit groups were rows of students on a different kind of spring break.
Alternative Spring Break is a program under the leadership center that organizes out-of-state volunteer trips, said Chelsea Guidry, Alternative Spring Break site leader.
Coincidentally, the group planned a trip to Louisiana the week of the tournament for volunteer work and happened to be just one hour away from Lakefront Arena.
“We got lucky that the basketball teams were going to be playing an hour away from where we were serving this week,” Guidry said. “We were stoked because they get a turnout at the home games, but the away games, no one gets a chance to go to.”
John said the atmosphere of the tournament was far more chaotic than any regular season game at the College Park Center, and if possible, she would definitely travel to cheer on other UTA teams in the future.
“It was almost like a competition between the people in the stands,” John said. “I mean, our main purpose was to cheer for the players, but it was like the band was comparing themselves to the other band and same with the dance and cheer teams.”
Kris Wood, assistant athletic director for Annual Giving and Alumni Relations, said as more students continue to follow the teams through the postseason, the more the department can grow student experience and interaction for the future.
“From an athletic standpoint, we’re trying to build our vision for the future from a tradition standpoint,” Wood said. “Building it, growing it, falling through with our mission, it shows that we’re on the right track and it’s going to keep us moving forward.”
The Sun Belt Championship will return to New Orleans in March 2016.