On Tuesday night, Bryant men’s basketball team dismantled Wagner in the championship game of the Northeast Conference Tournament, sending the Bulldogs to their first NCAA Tournament in school history.
Unfortunately, that won’t be the pristine memory those in Smithfield, Rhode Island will have.
With 4:37 remaining in the game, a large fight between fans directly behind the Wagner bench ensued, delaying the game with Bryant leading by 36, for a half hour. ESPN’s camera crews only switched to a wide angle of the melee live after a commentator mentioned the fight on-air, switching from a close-up of Bryant’s giddy bench during a timeout, peeking over at the pushing, shoving and punching.
Sitting directly behind the Wagner bench were Seahawks fans who made the trip from Staten Island to Rhode Island for the title game. Making up most of the rest of that section of bleachers was the Bryant student section. It’s unclear what directly started the brawl. While both teams returned to their locker rooms, local and state police officers rushed into the skirmish, placing dozens of fans on the court.
At the 2:33 mark of ESPN’s video, focusing in the middle of the chaos, a man wearing a USA Basketball jersey can be clearly seen getting punched in the face and staggering for a few moments, before his nose starts to bleed. Several Wagner players had to be restrained from entering the fight, including Seahawks guard Will Martinez, who made the largest attempt to enter the scuffle and was ejected from the game. No players from either team entered the stands.
According to WPRI in Rhode Island, a 20-year-old man was arrested from the incident and charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing an officer in execution of duty. Per Rhode Island State Police, that individual was transported to police headquarters where he was arraigned and released. That person’s identity has not been revealed.
Before the game resumed, Bryant athletic director Bill Smith addressed the crowd, stating they could not storm the court, as is customary for mid-majors when advancing to the NCAA Tournament, until after Wagner’s players and coaches had left the floor. When the game resumed, both teams ran down the clock without an on-court incident with the result of the contest in hand. Most of Wagner’s fans were escorted from the building for the final 4:37 as well. The NCAA and the NEC have yet to comment on the situation, with the conference’s recap from the game not even mentioning the brawl.