Fight Involving Players, Fans Mars NEC Championship Game

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A college basketball season that has seen ugly scenes in recent weeks got another dose of unsportsmanlike conduct Tuesday, as a fight broke out in the stands during the Northeastern Conference tournament championship game.

As reported by The Providence Journal, Rhode Island's Bryant University was leading Wagner University of Staten Island, NY, by a score of 68-32 with 4:37 left in the second half when a fight among fans broke out behind the Wagner bench at Bryant's Chace Athletic and Wellness Center. Both teams were taken off the court, but not before Wagner players appeared intent on joining the melee unfolding behind them.

Bryant athletic director Bill Smith announced that fans would be removed from the student section. The Wagner fans and band were removed first, and a few Bryant fans were also removed by law enforcement officials. One player — Wagner senior guard Will Martinez — was ejected from the game, which Bryant went on to win 70-43, earning the Bulldogs their first NCAA tournament bid in school history.

"I didn't see any of it — how any of that thing started. All I knew is we needed to finish the game in a first-class manner," Smith said after the game, according to the Journal. "Get both teams back on the court, shake hands at the end and finish the game."

Smith said it was a "very emotionally charged game" and that the Bryant gym doesn't have a "natural barrier" for the visiting team.

Wagner parents and family members were allowed back for the finish and the game resumed with police and security as a buffer between them and Bryant students.

"Unfortunately I don't think there was anything else we could have done that would have prevented what occurred," he said. "It's just been an incredible night and we're going to move on."

"Administrators here should have seen this coming," Journal reporter Bill Koch tweeted. "Game was out of hand. Crowd had been chirping at one another. But minimal security and adjacent seating set the stage for trouble."

Bryant was hosting its fourth consecutive sell-out crowd at Chace Center, including on this night Rhode Island governor Dan McKee.

"I don’t know how it started, why it started, what took place," Bryant coach Jared Grasso said, as reported by the Journal. "Thankfully our guys were not a part of it.

"The game should have been finished so these guys can celebrate with their fans. I know there was a point they were talking about clearing the fans out. I said, ‘We’re not telling these fans to leave.’

"We’ve sold out the last [four] home games. Kids are sitting outside at 9 o’clock in the morning for tickets at 12:30. There are people who drove seven hours to be at this game. They’re not leaving — it's not happening."

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