Inside college basketball’s most intimidating road environment, the 9,300-seat cauldron of hate and hostility known as Cameron Indoor Stadium, Pittsburgh wing Blake Hinson approached his teammates before tipoff with a seldom-heard complaint.
The Cameron Crazies were being too friendly.
“I don’t know if it was reverse psychology or they were trying to screw with me but they were saying hi and being really nice to me during warmups,” Hinson told Yahoo Sports. “I said to my teammates, ‘I don’t enjoy being liked by the opposing fans. Heckling is what I live for.’”
By the end of Pittsburgh’s 80-76 upset victory over shorthanded Duke this past Saturday night, Hinson no longer had to worry about Blue Devils fans treating him too kindly. He had become the most hated man in Durham, the inspiration for numerous middle fingers, the focus of
The feud between Hinson and the Crazies began with him mouthing off after burying a series of audacious 3-pointers, step-backs, transition pull-ups and even a heavily contested 28 footer at the shot clock buzzer. Then he picked up a second-half technical foul when he bumped a Duke player, mockingly gestured to the Crazies to get louder and then said something he admits he shouldn’t have to a referee.
The maraschino cherry on top came immediately after his 24 points and 7-for-7 3-point shooting propelled Pittsburgh to its first win at Duke since 1979. Hinson celebrated by leaping onto the scorer’s table in front of the legions of blue-clad Crazies, thumping his chest and blowing kisses at them.
A few exceedingly polite Crazies gave Hinson a thumbs down. Others shouted obscenities at him or raised a different finger.
Says Hinson dryly, “They weren’t happy, that’s for sure.”
The question that Hinson has answered most often since then is what caused him to jump up on that table and live every visiting player’s dream. He swears that it wasn’t premeditated, that it wasn’t his version of Terrell Owens whipping a sharpie out of his sock and signing the football after catching a touchdown pass.
“That was just the excitement and the passion that I was feeling in that moment and the respect I had for that arena and that fanbase,” Hinson insists. “I’m acknowledging how hard it is to play there and how good that team is. I can see if you’re a Duke fan, why you’d be mad, but there’s nothing but respect on my end.”
The sight of Hinson atop that scorer’s table doesn’t surprise those who know him. The skilled 6-foot-7 senior has always been brash and fearless, whether with his words or his shot selection.
The son of a former UCF basketball player and younger brother of a two-sport athlete at South Carolina, Hinson grew up excelling as a tight end and a small forward. His raw ability in football and basketball was so unmistakable by eighth grade that Florida State actually offered him a scholarship to play both sports.
Despite a body suited for football and interest from numerous high-major programs, Hinson chose to focus on basketball because he preferred it more. The former four-star recruit signed with Ole Miss out of high school and also spent time at Iowa State before transferring to Pittsburgh in spring 2022.
The marriage has been a good one for both parties. Pittsburgh coach Jeff Capel has provided structure and discipline while also giving Hinson enough freedom to shoot early and often and to lead in his own way.
Hinson averaged 15.3 points and 6.0 rebounds last season and sank one of the Panthers’ most memorable shots, an impossibly deep “no, no … yes!” 3-pointer late in a one-point NCAA tournament victory over Mississippi State. Hinson then went through the NBA Draft process but opted to return to Pittsburgh, vowing to get in better shape and to prove that he could take on the challenge of defending an opposing team’s top scorer.
While the streak-shooting Hinson torched non-league opponents for more than 20 points per game, his ill-timed shooting slump the past few weeks contributed to Pittsburgh (11-7) dropping five of its first six ACC games. The Duke victory was his get-right game, his reminder that he’s still one of the ACC’s most feared scorers.
Asked when he started feeling it against Duke, Hinson objected to the question.
“I’m always feeling it,” he said. “I don’t really understand how people shoot it and don’t feel like it’s going in. If you’re not always feeling it, how do you shoot the next one?”
While Hinson’s seven 3-pointers helped stymie every Duke run, it’s his victory celebration that has thrust him into the national spotlight. Duke coach Jon Scheyer apologized to Blue Devils fans for allowing Hinson to celebrate at their expense. Sophomore forward Kyle Filipowski called Hinson’s behavior “really disrespectful” and promised Duke would “remember that for next time whenever anyone steps in the building again.” Even Capel, a former Duke player and associate head coach, told Hinson he didn’t condone the taunting.
The reaction from those without Duke ties not surprisingly has been far more supportive. People who enjoyed the moment have sent Hinson all sorts of photos and videos. A North Carolina fan even did the meaningful work of combing through video clips to throwing up middle fingers in Hinson’s direction.
“This is the most I’ve ever heard from North Carolina fans,” Hinson said with a chuckle. “It seems like they really enjoyed it.”
While Hinson hopes the Duke victory will be remembered as the turning point in Pittsburgh’s season rather than the highlight of it, he also understands his celebration will always have a place in Panthers lore. After all, he spent two years at Ole Miss, the same school that Marshall Henderson played for when he
“I think they have that hung up at Ole Miss somewhere,” Hinson said.
Soon at Pittsburgh, Hinson blowing kisses to the Cameron Crazies might receive the same treatment.
THE COUNTDOWN: BIG Z EDITION
Earlier this month, impatient Kentucky fans raised thousands of dollars to erect a new billboard adjacent to the NCAA Eligibility Center in Indianapolis. The billboard begged the NCAA to hurry up and clear Croatian 7-footer Zvonimir Ivisic to play for the Wildcats.
A couple weeks ago, we launched a campaign to hang a billboard outside of the NCAA Eligibility Center so that their employees could see it every day on the way to work.
Kentucky fans raised the money in less that 4 hours. BBN is like that!
— Buddy 🏀😼 (@BigBlueBud) January 17, 2024
Big Z proved to be worth the wait last Saturday against Georgia when he finally did receive clearance to play. He splashed 3-pointers, threw no-look passes and protected the rim, flashing the potential to elevate an already formidable Kentucky team to another level if he can perform like this consistently.
Here were the best moments from a memorable midseason debut:
MATCHUPS NOT TO MISS (all times Eastern)
Texas at Oklahoma, Tuesday, 7 p.m. (ESPN)
Houston at BYU, Tuesday, 9 p.m. (ESPN+)
Auburn at Alabama, Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Illinois at Northwestern, Wednesday, 9 p.m. (BTN)
Vermont at UMass Lowell, Thursday, 6:30 p.m. (ESPN+)
Seton Hall at Marquette, Saturday, 1 p.m. (FS1)
Arizona at Oregon, Saturday, 5:30 p.m. (FOX)
Kansas at Iowa State, Saturday, 1:30 p.m. (CBS)
Kentucky at Arkansas, Saturday, 6 p.m. (ESPN)
Dayton at Richmond, Saturday, 6 p.m. (CBSSN)
GET A LOAD OF THIS
Take a look at Texas coach Rodney Terry jumping up and down last Saturday after Tyrese Hunter’s last-second layup to clinch a 75-73 victory over Baylor.
There would be nothing notable about Terry’s celebration were it not for the ill-fated comments he made only three days earlier after a loss to UCF.
When a handful of UCF players celebrated that win by displaying Horns Down hand gestures, Terry took offense. He shouted that they were “classless” during the postgame handshake line and addressed the incident again in his postgame news conference.
“When you do those kinds of things, it looks very classless and it also looks like you were just hoping to win,” Terry said. “We never go into games trying to hope to win. We go into games expecting to win. So we don’t act like that. We expect to win. We don’t jump up and down and act like we won the national championship. We sure don’t step on anyone’s home court and act crazy and try to show them up in any way. We don’t do that.”
Only 48 hours later, there was Terry, jumping up and down like he’d won the national title after a mid-January home win. It was a perfectly reasonable reaction under the circumstances but also one that left Terry looking hypocritical.
Last Saturday, 75 days into the college basketball season, Alcorn State finally played its first home game against a Division I opponent. The road-weary Braves lost 72-61 to Texas Southern to fall to 2-15 so far this season.
Why would Alcorn State construct a schedule that required its overmatched team to crisscross the country playing non-league road games at the likes of Arkansas, Michigan State, TCU, Maryland and Northern Iowa? The answer, of course, is money. The Braves earned hundreds of thousands of dollars for their cash-strapped athletic department in return for providing its bigger non-league opponents near-certain home victories.
Alcorn State was the last team to play a Division I home game, but its scheduling philosophy is hardly unique. In the SWAC alone, Mississippi Valley State, Jackson State and Prairie View A&M all didn’t play home games against Division I competition until conference play began in early January.
ONE LAST THING
As legions of Ohio State women’s basketball fans streamed onto the floor to celebrate Sunday’s upset victory over Iowa, Caitlin Clark tried to make a speedy exit. The Iowa superstar didn’t get far before colliding with an on-rushing woman who was filming herself running onto the court and paying more attention to her phone than where she was going.
Clark later said that she was shaken up but not seriously hurt. She described the incident as “kind of scary” because the fan “could have caused a pretty serious injury.”
The sight of one of the nation’s most popular athletes knocked to the floor has reignited debate over whether the fun of court stormings outweigh the risks. In January 2013, NC State forward C.J. Leslie had to lift a fellow student to safety after he was . In February 2014, when New Mexico State players exchanged punches with on-rushing fans just after the final buzzer.
Players have been body-checked by unruly fans. Coaches have been pinned against the scorer’s table by the crush of bodies. A high school senior suffered injuries that left him paralyzed on one side. A Des Moines Register columnist fractured his tibia and fibula when he was knocked to the ground.
So what should administrators do? In reality, there’s no easy solution that will satisfy everyone.
Conferences could eliminate court stormings if the penalty for the school and its fans were stiff enough, but college basketball would lose some of the spontaneity and fun that separates it from other sports. Conferences could try to delay court stormings long enough to give players and coaches time to get off the floor, but it’s unrealistic to delay throngs of excited students that long after a big upset or buzzer beater. Or conferences could allow court stormings to continue mostly unchecked, but serious injuries seem inevitable
As Purdue coach Matt Painter warned earlier this year, “Something’s going to happen.”