When Dalton State College’s men’s basketball team plays its first home game tonight, it will be defending more than the pride of its fanbase.
The Roadrunners are also protecting an undefeated record.
Dalton State improved to 3-0 with Tuesday’s 97-95 overtime win against Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C., and now looks to the first home game at the trade center and the first home game of any sort since the school relaunched athletics for the 2013-2014 school year. The Roadrunners welcome Hiwassee College (1-3) of Madisonville, Tenn., for a 7 p.m. tipoff. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.
Men’s basketball is the flagship sport for the college’s athletics and has a rich history of winning with multiple state and regional titles from its previous life as Dalton Junior College, which sported a basketball team from 1968-1978. Those Roadrunners played home games in the on-campus Bandy Gymnasium.
These Roadrunners will play at the trade center in front of possibly 1,950 fans, the capacity inside the venue. The school reported last month that 720 season tickets were sold for the 16 home games on the 30-game schedule.
“I have no control over that,” Roadrunners coach Tony Ingle said. “I’m happy for the college, kids and town. Like I said before, it’s our community, college and town. It’s our basketball program. I hope we can play well. It’s something people have been waiting for a long time.”
There’s also a game to play, and possibly a 4-0 record to attain.
“I hope they’re not so excited that they can’t make a shot,” Ingle said.
Dalton State won 69-66 in its first game last Wednesday against Spring Hill College. Two days later, the team beat Belhaven University 79-73. Both games were undecided heading into the final minute.
“We were up three with 33 seconds to go against Belhaven,” Ingle said, “so we’ve dodged a lot of bullets.”
Still, to be 3-0 at this point is an achievement for a team that hasn’t played together before this season.
“Spring Hill outmanned us inside and outrebounded us 51-35,” Ingle said. “Typically, you’re not supposed to win those types of games. But we’ve been pushing our guys to keep working hard and I’m proud of them.”
Against Southern Wesleyan, the Roadrunners won the rebound battle 45-41 and shot 40.6 percent from 3-point land, making 13 of 32 from the perimeter.