An Instant Classic:Greensboro-Guilford College basketball game

A Look Back at an Instant Classic
December 3, 2007

By Bob Lowe, Greensboro College Pride SID

Greensboro College defeated Guilford College, 71-66, at Hanes Gymnasium on November 28, 2007. While most around the nation simply saw a line score in their daily newspaper, to the Gate City it was much more.

It was a perfect storm of circumstances that help create a game for the ages between Greensboro’s two NCAA Division III institutions.

-The Teams

Riding the back of NCAA Division III Preseason Player of the Year Ben Strong, Guilford entered the game ranked a program-best third in the nation. Coach Tom Palombo’s Quakers went to the NCAA playoffs last year and dominated Villa Julie, 87-53, and was picked to win the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

Greensboro College also produced an outstanding 2006-07 season. In just his second year, Coach Bryan Galuski’s club went 20-7 season and shared a USA South regular season title. GC had the luck of producing its best year since 1984-85 in the shadow of Strong and the Quakers breakthrough year. This year’s team leans on seniors Adam Nicholson and Bruce Zamuel and was picked second in the coaches’ preseason poll.

-The Venue

The Quakers and Pride are rivals in many intercollegiate games and they also play each other in basketball most every year. So what made this game even more appealing? The venue was James G. Hanes Gymnasium on the campus of Greensboro College.

Since 1994–and a handful of other times since the teams starting playing in 1968—Greensboro and Guilford have played at the Greensboro Coliseum. It is a historic building that has hosted many major sporting events, including North Carolina State defeating UCLA in a memorable NCAA semifinal game in 1974.

The teams have appreciated playing at such a top-notch facility; It’s one of the few opportunities these Division III student-athletes get to experience “the big time.”

The Coliseum, however, seats 23,000 fans. For the Guilford-Greensboro game, that translates into more than 22,000 empty seats. Guilford won an exciting game there last year in overtime. Last year, a freshman named R.J. Smith missed a runner to give Greensboro a win at the buzzer in regulation. The Quakers won the game in overtime, 78-74.

Hanes Gym is a quirky arena by basketball standards. It was built in the 1950s and basketball likely wasn’t the first thing on the architect’s mind since the bulk of the seats are behind the west goal. Fans sit steps from the action on the far sideline. One hundred fans in Hanes, the noise can be deafening. For these reason, Hanes has been called a mini version of Duke’s venerable Cameron Indoor Stadium.

-The Pre-Game Hype

Pride Athletics Director Kim Strable spearheaded the idea of bringing the Guilford-Greensboro basketball game back to campus. Greensboro does not charge admission for regular season basketball games. No exception was made for this game.

Greensboro College student activities got behind the game, too. Students were encouraged to wear green and get their faces painted. Taking a cue from Guilford-Greensboro’s Souper Bowl that has collected nearly 30,000 canned goods since 1997, local businesses agreed to donate canned goods honor of every painted face.

Strable even got in on the hoopla. If at least 10 other Greensboro students got painted, he would, he would join the ritual. The esteemed athletics director was seen in The Pride section behind the basket with paint adorning his face and (bald) head. By tipoff, he and dozens of GC students packed the west end zone seats.

Meanwhile, Guilford’s involvement had a more grassroots approach. Quaker student-athletes dressed in black and—heeding the warnings of a packed house—arrived early. Many of them were in Hanes Gym TWO HOURS early. They chanted, raised the Souper Bowl perpetual trophy and waited for warm ups and then game time.

Two very good basketball programs, one of the Triad’s best basketball players in Strong, a rivalry game and classic venue set the stage for great contest.

-The Game

Guilford showed little rust from its 11 day layoff. They took an early 10-2 lead. Strong lived up to his name with 16 of his game high 28 points coming in the first half. Yet The Pride’s Smith nailed a three-pointer to cut the Quaker lead to 34-33 at the break.

Greensboro’s Zamuel (17 points) gave the home team its first lead, 35-34, with the opening basket of the second half. He left the game after picking up his third foul, but would return to hit some clutch jump shots later.

After taking the lead, The Pride never trailed again. While Adam Nicholson scored 11 points fewer than his average of 23, he dished 6 assists. Freshman Adam Powell also scored 12 and Jason Sharpe and Josh Brown made key contributions on defense.

Yet it was Smith who stood out. Pushed into a starting role due to an injury to Michael McDuffie, he had 22 points, four three-pointers and recorded four steals as The Pride forced 16 turnovers.

“R.J. had to step up, and he’s a gamer,” Galuski said. “The effort that he displayed tonight and the numbers he put up were tremendous. A big-time game from a sophomore and there’s more like that to come from him.”

Zamuel and Smith made key free throws to thwart a late Guilford rally. The Pride made 15-18 free throws and prevailed in front of 849 fans, 71-66.

It was bedlam at the final buzzer and Pride fans stormed the court. Galuski was doused with water, a sporting tradition after a big win.

“I don’t care what the price of a ticket was, that was an outstanding basketball game,” said long time Greensboro sports fan Don Tilley. “People don’t realize how good Division III athletics can be and the atmosphere tonight raised the level even higher.”

-An Era revisited

Veteran Triad sports fans likened the Nov. 28 game to those between area colleges 30 years ago. Back then, Greensboro College, Guilford College, UNCG, Elon and High Point were all either affiliated with the NCAA’s Division III or the NAIA.

Unlike today, the Triad area institutions were considered small colleges. Additionally, they played in smaller gymnasiums, similar to Hanes. Excluding Greensboro College, all the other institutions now play in modern arenas or refurbished structures that replicate newer buildings.

“I could almost see former GC Hornet players running down the court, there goes Clarence Caldwell, Calvin Hunt, Dean Oldham, Stan Morgan, Freddy Johnson, and Gary Thomas,” said longtime Gate City media member Andy Durham on his blog at “Guilford would fight back with M.L. Carr, Jerry Crocker, and Tom Ennis but with Guilford in the house and it being 1972 you might see Gene Littles or Tommy Cole, or Dwight Durante.”

-The Aftermath

“Sports are events the community can rally around and get excited about, and that’s a wonderful thing to experience.”
-Paul Allen, Billionaire professional sports team owner as told to Sports Illustrated, 12-3-07

It was Strable who wanted to move the game back to campus. Perhaps it was a way to end a 4-game losing streak, or maybe he remembered the atmosphere created last time the teams played at campus venues more than 13 years ago.

Will the Guilford-Greensboro men’s basketball game return to the Coliseum? That’s a decision Guilford and athletics director/men’s basketball coach Palombo will make.

Here’s a solution–with an assist for former Major League Baseball player Ernie Banks—let’s play two!

A home-and-home each year would offer two nights of excitement. Coaches often complain of scheduling non-conference games, so there’s a great way to accomplish a number of goals.

Durham suggests admission to the game be a new toy that would benefit Toys for Tots. Perhaps this could be the Guilford-Greensboro “SouperGoal” that would complement football’s SouperBowl.

Regardless of what happens in the future, Nov. 28, 2007 will go down as perhaps the best game in the history of the Quakers and Pride in athletics. For those who weren’t there, you can check the statistics, stores, game photos at the web gallery, stories or for video highlights.

Yet if you were there (there aren’t’ tickets to prove your attendance), the memories will likely last forever.