Homecoming was everything you would hope for Saturday at Charlotte. A few fans tailgated in the sunshine on the parking deck. Homecoming queen candidates walked through the concourse at Halton Arena. An alumni game was held late Saturday morning; former Charlotte guard Byron Dinkins did not have to be coaxed to shoot. Then the 49ers won a dramatic and thrilling game, beating Massachusetts 66-65.
And a Charlotte player did not play because he was suspended. The 49ers have suspended two players this season a total of three times. I dont know if the 49ers are in the top 25 nationally in suspensions. But if they arent, they are among other teams receiving votes.
Charlotte coach Alan Major has not said, and would not say Saturday, why he suspended DeMario Mayfield for the second time in 2012-13. Mayfield, a junior guard, leads the team in scoring and is second in assists and steals.
But give Major this: If a coach has rules for which a lesser player would be suspended, he has to suspend a star for the same transgression. Whatever Major would gain by the presence of Mayfield he would forfeit in credibility with his players.
Saturday was Charlottes final homecoming basketball game. The next homecoming will be Oct. 12, when the 49ers play UNC Pembroke in a football game. The game is scheduled for noon.
At 7:30 that evening Charlotte Motor Speedway will hold the Bank of America 500. When the 49ers scheduled the game they anticipated the race would be the following Saturday.
Anybody who planned to attend both events still can. Plenty of seats ought to be available for both.
The alumni basketball game will still be played next season, Dinkins will still take lots of shots and Major will still invite former Charlotte players to his house for a summer cookout, a tradition he borrowed from his previous employer, Ohio State.
But Saturday was the final basketball homecoming game.
Today, particularly, was about honoring the past, Major says.
The 49ers had 11 steals to seven for the Minutemen. They had 37 rebounds to the Minutemens 32 and 19 offensive rebounds to the Minutemens 12. The 49ers were more aggressive. They shot 26 free throws to UMasss 16.
Every 49er had at least one rebound. Although the games top two scorers played for the visitors, all nine 49ers scored at least four points. None of them scored more than 12.
The 49ers, 5-2 in the Atlantic 10, lack a scorer to which they can turn when the clock runs low, a scorer who will consistently draw an extra defender.
To have a chance to win, everybody has to look to score. Everybody has to hustle to get in position. They especially had to hustle Saturday without Mayfield and without Darion Clark, a forward who usually is in their rotation. He wasnt suspended. Clark injured his ankle.
With 17.2 seconds remaining Charlotte point guard Pierra Henry, a former high school football player in Charleston, W. Va., reminded fans of future homecomings. He beat the press by throwing a football-like pass that hit teammate E. Victor Nickerson in stride.
On the Minutemens final possession their NBA-quick point guard, Chaz Williams, went one-on-one against Charlotte. Williams leads the Atlantic 10 in assists and is eighth in scoring.
As he drove with his head down Henry stole the ball and gleefully dribbled down court. The buzzer went off and so did fans. About 25 cheerleaders cheered, about 15 dancers danced, nine students with signs ran around and green and white confetti flew out of a cannon.
Good game, great crowd and a fantastic finish.
This was a fine way to end one tradition and to work toward starting another.