Once again, Sean Woods' team
And lost it.
I’m not talking about the game this time.
I’m referring to the opportunity to be recognized as a program on the rise.
When Woods was hired as Morehead State’s head coach, he proclaimed that he had aspirations of Morehead State becoming “the Gonzaga of the South,” meaning that it would eventually make consistent national noise as a mid-major.
He made the wrong kind of noise on Wednesday night during the Eagles’ 81-70 loss to Kentucky in Rupp Arena.
The Eagles were being recognized, but it was because of negative attention toward their coach.
Fox Sports South aired the game live and caught most of the sequence that set Twitter feeds, Internet blogs and YouTube ablaze.
Devon Atkinson, a senior who transferred from Brunswick Community College in 2011, had just fouled out. As he was coming off the court, Atkinson must have said or done something to set his coach off. Or so it seemed, as an assistant coach looked to also be fired up at Atkinson as the point guard neared the team huddle.
Woods said something to Atkinson and then shoved him forcefully in the back towards the bench. The assistant grabbed Atkinson and pulled him away from the head coach, but Woods wasn’t finished. He basically walked and talked Atkinson to his seat before leaving for a moment. Woods then returned, knelt down and delivered some words face-to-face. The guard appeared to then be fighting back tears.
“He gave everything he had and he let his emotions get the best of him a little bit,” Woods commented on the situation after the game, “and I just had to let him know that, hey, it’s not over. We’re still in the game. Now you’ve got to figure out a way to calm down and cheer your teammates on.”
Some may consider that statement ironic or hypocritical, but then again, the only ones who know the whole story are Atkinson and Woods.
He’s a fiery guy, and as he put it, an “ultimate competitor,” but Woods probably would have been better served to delay his reaction and save it for the locker room.
Players, though, said they aren’t bothered by his unique intensity.
“It’s coaching,” said senior Milton Chavis, who poured in 23 points on 9-of-15 shooting. “You’ve got to accept coaching as a player and it instills mental toughness. I like it.”
“It doesn’t make us uncomfortable,” said Drew Kelly, a junior who tallied 10 points and five rebounds. “We handle it very well and it gets us better.”
Twenty years ago, Woods made the shot before “The Shot” in what most deem the greatest game ever played — an NCAA regional final between Kentucky and Duke that ended with Christian Laettner’s buzzer beater in a Duke one-point win. Woods made an incredible runner to put Kentucky ahead moments before. He’s known as one of the four “Unforgettables” in Kentucky basketball lore.
Woods nearly pulled off another unforgettable, by outlining a game plan that nearly upset Kentucky — his alma mater, a top 10 team in the country and the defending national champions.
The aggressive, foul-laden Eagles were physical and ferocious. Early in the first half, they turned a 6-0 deficit into a 23-12 lead in less than 11 minutes.
“You’ve got to give Morehead credit,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari.
“They just came after us, got up under us, got body-to-body, were hand-checking ... We needed it.”
In the end, Archie Goodwin's 28 points and Alex Poythress' 20 (including 8-of-8 free throws) were too much for Morehead State. The final tally on fouls: MSU 32, UK 12.
The Eagles gave the Cats fits for much of the night.
Unfortunately, it was one particular fit by the coach that caught the nation's attention.
The good news for the Eagles: It looks as if Woods will win more than he loses at Morehead State. As long as he keeps his cool.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.