Kansas guard Devonte Graham stepped to the free throw line with 11 seconds remaining in the game between the Jayhawks and Iowa State on Monday night. The score was 75-72, and Graham was tasked with shooting a 1-and-1 to push the lead to a two-possession game for KU.
The Hilton Coliseum crowd — what was left of it at least — raised their voices and tried so desperately to create a scene they’d seen before: an opponent missing a crucial free throw due to the deafening noise, only to lead to a brilliant score by the home team to win or send the game into overtime. One only has to go back to the 2013-14 season to see the most recent example of this.
However, on Monday night, there was one major difference. The noise before the free throw was just loud — not deafening. Graham sank the front end of his 1-and-1 and that was enough to all but win the game.
What made the difference in noise levels between Monday night and in the video posted above?
Fans who left early.
I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw hordes of fans heading toward the exits when Iowa State took a timeout down nine points with 1:41 left in the game. And I couldn’t believe my eyes for a second time when I saw the same thing occur after Naz Mitrou-Long got called for a foul when the Cyclones were down just six points with 47 seconds on the clock.
I’d guess at least 3,000-5,000 fans had decided to pack it up and leave at that point, leaving the arena known for “Hilton Magic” sprinkled with sections of empty seats. It was strikingly visible for those who remained in the arena and those viewing on ESPN from home.
In my opinion, having all of those seats full with rowdy, screaming fans when Devonte Graham went to the line for a 1-and-1 would have made a huge difference. Perhaps with more noise, Graham would have missed his free throw and ISU would have been able to take a shot to force overtime.
We’ll never know, though, because the “fans” who left early gave up on the team. They gave up on Hilton Magic. But most importantly, they gave up on doing everything they could to help the Cyclones win. Because when you’re a Cyclone fan in Hilton Coliseum, every part of your soul should be poured into helping Iowa State win. That’s the special sauce that fuels Hilton Magic.
Look... There’s some occasions where I’m fine with fans leaving early. If ISU is down double-digits with less than a minute left, it’s probably okay to leave early. If ISU is up double-digits with less than a minute left, it’s probably okay to leave early. If someone in your group has a physical or mental reason that they’re better off beating the crowd for, it’s probably okay to leave early.
But if the game is still within reach — for Iowa State OR the opposing team — then able-bodied Cyclone fans need to do a better job of keeping their butts in the seats and willing their team to a victory. Saving 5-10 minutes of sitting in your car in the parking lot isn’t worth leaving early for. Hell, I left my seat right at the final buzzer and was on I-35 just 20 minutes later. It’s really not that bad.
The funny part is, I’m sure a bunch of the fans who decided to depart prematurely this evening are also of the variety that bag on players and coaches for not giving a full effort. If that’s indeed the case, I find those fans to be extremely hypocritical, considering they don’t do everything themselves to help the team win.
Hilton Magic doesn’t work if it’s not being fueled by 14,000+ Iowa State fans dedicated to willing the team to victory. Tonight, members of Cyclone Nation didn’t hold up their end of the deal. Those fans brought shame to the reputation that Hilton Coliseum has built for being one of the toughest places to play in the country.
If you left tonight’s game early, I strongly persuade you to start staying until the end of every game going forward. Either that, or depart from your season ticket subscription early too, that way fans who won’t give up on the team can sit where your undedicated ass has been renting space.
After all, we’re Loyal Sons Forever True, not Loyal Sons Until There’s A Minute Or Two Left So We Can Beat The Crowd.
See you in Hilton next Tuesday for K-State. I hope you’ll join me for that marvelous sound known as the final buzzer.