By DOUG IRELAND, Journal Sports
After a near-brawl moments following the end of last Thursday’s Northwestern State-McNeese State men’s basketball game at Prather Coliseum, athletic directors at both schools moved quickly on limited disciplinary action for their teams, they acknowledged this week.
No action specific to either team was taken by the Southland Conference office, which instead directed each institution to handle the situation as deemed appropriate. While NSU suspended a coaching staff member for the next game, last Saturday at Nicholls, no commensurate action was taken by McNeese, which issued a “private reprimand” to its head coach.
The incident erupted immediately after a tense confrontation between head coaches Corey Gipson of Northwestern State and John Aiken of McNeese at the end of the handshake line moments after the final buzzer. The Demons recorded an emotionally-charged 89-75 victory, taking control in the final eight minutes after 16 lead changes.
The game’s tenor was repeatedly described as “chippy” by ESPN Plus announcer Patrick Netherton, especially during the later stages of play. An unusually-high total of five technical fouls for inappropriate conduct were called by game officials, three on Northwestern players, all on Demons’ co-captains – two on Ja’Monta Black, resulting in his ejection with 1:38 to play.
Black’s second technical, disqualifying him, was the result of some interaction between him and the McNeese bench not long after he made his eighth three-point basket of the game.
The Cowboys called a timeout with 1:29 remaining and the Demons called two in the final minute with a double-digit lead. In the waning seconds, Aiken drew a technical foul when he approached the midcourt area on the sideline and clapped aggressively at Gipson while apparently adding some angry words.
Game officials reportedly discouraged Aiken from sending his team through the traditional postgame handshake line, but he didn’t take the advice. There were no signs of a problem until Aiken reached Gipson, who differs from the vast majority of college coaches and is the last among the NSU party in every postgame handshake procession.
Aiken stopped Gipson from moving forward, gripping his hand and offering quick remarks which drew a stunned look from the new NSU coach. An NSU security officer closely following Gipson contacted Aiken, moving him slightly backwards, and Demons’ graduate manager Joey Heimel, immediately in front of Gipson in the line, turned back and made contact with Aiken as well. Aiken immediately backed away.
McNeese players and staff rushed to defend their coach as Demon players and staff, security officers and even some people from nearby stands rushed onto the court. No punches were thrown, although there was plenty of pushing and shoving between team members and staff over the next 15-20 seconds. Teams separated and went toward their locker rooms, but another skirmish briefly flared behind the north grandstand as teams were approaching their locker rooms. Police and coaches diffused that situation quickly.
Speaking shortly afterward to Netherton on ESPN Plus, Gipson was irritated as he recounted the incident.
“The only thing I’m worried about is the coach yelling at me at the end … I hope that gets handled by the conference commissioner and whoever else,” Gipson said, after moments earlier describing the incident as, “I’ve got the coach yelling and screaming in my face.”
First-year Southland commissioner Chris Grant’s reaction was to defer disciplinary action to the schools involved.
A statement from NSU athletics director Kevin Bostian provided Monday evening explained the Demons’ response.
“Following Thursday’s game, we immediately reached out to the Southland Conference office to discuss the postgame incident following Northwestern State’s win against McNeese. After those discussions, we made a decision to suspend graduate manager Joey Heimel for his actions. Joey served his one-game reprimand Saturday at Nicholls, and he rejoined the program Sunday. The program has moved forward and is preparing for this Thursday’s game at Southeastern Louisiana.”
Aiken received a private reprimand, said McNeese spokesman Matt Bonnette, and the Southland Conference office circulated a general reminder to all league members about the importance of good sportsmanship, but no further action was taken.
“We feel that the Southland Conference office handled the matter in a way it needed, and we consider this matter closed,” he said.
The teams completed their regular-season two-game series. They could meet again in the Southland Conference Tournament hosted by McNeese in Lake Charles in early March.
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