By FATIN AMIN
The men’s basketball team experienced a true underdog story when they headed to Storrs, Conn, to face off against the powerhouse UConn Huskies on Nov. 1. Having their first exhibition game against a Division I team this season, the Spartans were unsure of what to expect when they first stepped foot in the Gampel Pavilion. The stadium was packed with thousands of spectators as if UConn were playing Syracuse or Notre Dame, giving the Spartans the full American Athletic Conference basketball treatment.
The moment sophomore guard Frantz Pinard heard the news about playing the Huskies, he knew it was something he would never forget. The Massachusetts native was excited to be heading back to the Northeast for a showdown with one of the most exceptional programs in the region.
“I was very excited and motivated once we found out we were going to play against UConn,” Pinard said. “I felt prepared, pumped up, and confident because of our hard work we put in as a team during the preseason through weight lifting workouts and practices.”
The lights, fans cheering in the stands and the atmosphere of playing against a Division I basketball could’ve provided a major distraction, but Pinard kept his nerves at bay when he stepped out in front of the spectators.
“It was a great feeling being on the big stage and I will never forget it,” Pinard said. “I wasn’t nervous playing in front of thousands of fans. I felt we as a team worked very hard and showed our potential to be a great team this year because we competed well with a high major D1 program.”
Despite the 88-72 loss, the trip to Connecticut gave Pinard the opportunity to get to know his teammates and learn what it is like to be better in performing on and off the court, an experience he feels was crucial to the team’s chemistry overall.
“Throughout the whole trip the whole team bonded a lot which will help us grow together,” Pinard said. “We ate at multiple restaurants and even went to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts during our off time. It was a great experience with the fellas.”
The basketball team may have travelled 1,270 miles away from Tampa, but they were welcomed with tremendous support by the Storrs Community. Assistant coach Justin Pecka shared moments that gave the team encouragement before and after the game.
“After the game a lot of people were, ‘Yea Tampa. Good Game,’” Pecka said. “I think a lot of them were actually rooting for us because we were the underdogs. We saw some fans out when we went out to eat on Thursday night. They were like, ‘I hope you guys beat UConn.’ And they were UConn students, so it wasn’t a crazy hostile place where they hated us or anything. The guys liked it and I think it might have calmed them down. We weren’t really sure what to expect. We haven’t played in front of thousands of people.”
Head coach Richard Schmidt said his team stepped up to the plate when they faced the 2014 National Champions. Every step of the way, Schmidt guided the Spartans as they to took the court to battle it out against the Huskies. As the final buzzer went off to end the game, the team headed into the locker room with a satisfactory achievement in hand.
“I think we were somewhat pleased that we had done pretty well,” Schmidt said. “Even though we lost by 16 points, we actually hung in the game up until the last five minutes. I started subbing a little bit, even more earlier than the other coach but our guys played good and I think they felt good about themselves. They felt like they did a pretty good job. We still got a long way to go to be good, but on that particular day, we hung in and did a pretty good job.”