Xavier takes on Tougaloo in basketball finales at The Barn
February 12, 2012
NEW ORLEANS — Monday at The Barn should be filled
with people and emotion.
Not only will Xavier University of Louisiana play its
final basketball games in its 75-year-old gymnasium, but it also will be senior
night with five honorees from the Gold Nuggets and four from the Gold Rush.
But on a night of goodbyes and looking toward the
future, will the Nuggets and Rush say goodbye to their chances of winning
Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular-season championships?
There's urgency for the XU women, who will play
Tougaloo at 5:30 p.m. The Nuggets are 8-2 in the GCAC and tied for first
place with Talladega with three conference games remaining for each after
Monday. Tougaloo is third at 8-3 and already has a victory against the Nuggets.
The Lady Bulldogs will try for their first regular-season sweep of Xavier since
the 1977-78 season.
The urgency is greater in the men's game, when the Rush
meet Tougaloo at 7:30 p.m., Xavier must win to prevent the Bulldogs from
clinching their third GCAC regular-season title in six seasons. The Rush are
7-3 in the conference and in second place but trail Tougaloo (10-1) by 2˝
A packed house of 1,300 is expected. Longtime XU
president Dr. Norman Francis will briefly address the crowd, as will others.
Souvenir T-shirts will be given to the first 100 XU students through the door;
more shirts will be sold for $10 each.
Senior Nuggets Jasmine Grant, Keldra Hall, Jazmoné
Kelly, Danielle Kennebrew and Brandi Young will be honored at halftime of their
game. The men's senior night will precede tip-off of the second game, with
Cordell Hadnot, Chris Iles, Jeremy Lee and medical-school-bound Jamaan Kenner
receiving their curtain calls.
Then the curtain finally will fall on The Barn, which
was dedicated on Nov. 2, 1937, by Archbishop Joseph Rummel of the Archdiocese
of New Orleans and played host to its first basketball game on Dec. 29 of
that year — a 32-19 Xavier men's victory against Alabama State. Regarded
for decades as a difficult environment for visiting teams, The Barn will be
razed after the completion of the 4,500-seat Convocation Academic Center later
this year. The Barn is expected to play host to most, if not all, XU home
women's volleyball matches this fall, but the CAC is expected to be ready in
November for the start of the 2012-13 basketball season.
Not surprisingly, both the Rush and the Nuggets are
leaving The Barn on a high note. The XU men won 32 of their past 35 home games,
and the women won 121 of their past 129, including a current streak of 21
straight in conference. No GCAC opponent has swept a doubleheader at Xavier
since SUNO on Feb. 7, 2002. Since that double defeat, Xavier has swept 31
GCAC doubleheaders on the road.
The Barn acquired its name in the 1960s because of a
then-wood exterior and cavernous interior. But the facility no longer resembles
a barn. The interior was enlarged and air-conditioned, and 1987 renovations
— inspired by Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans and his
celebration of Mass in the nearby XU quadrangle — replaced the wooden
exterior with brick.
The Barn underwent additional renovations during
2005-06 because of the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Xavier suspended its
athletics program for that entire year after the university endured
considerable storm damages, which included two feet of flood water in the gym.
But by July '06 the facility had been renovated — including Jackson State
University's generous loan of a wooden basketball court — and The Barn
was ready for the return of the athletics department's staff, coaches and
Since that hurricane, the Rush and Nuggets have
combined to win 87 percent of their games at The Barn in six seasons (78-17
men, 85-8 women). The volleyball Nuggets, in their fourth season, finally
stepped up in 2011, winning eight of nine home matches and their first GCAC
regular-season and tournament championships.
"That's the interesting question," said Bo Browder, in
his 13th season as head coach of the Nuggets and the proud owner of a 169-16
record at The Barn. "What will it be like for Xavier in the new arena? It'll
definitely be nice, a major upgrade — something we've needed for a long
time. The Barn has been a great home-court advantage for our teams, but I've
always thought the players have had the greatest influence on our success.
I think it'll stay that way in the new arena."
The Convocation Academic Center will be across
Washington Avenue and near the main campus on a site bounded by Short, Palm
and Stroelitz streets — one block from South Carrollton Avenue.