The heavyweight fight went viral, but Hawaii coach Gib Arnold wasn’t about to allow it to infect his basketball team.
Some now-infamous fisticuffs between Mississippi State teammates Renardo Sidney and Elgin Bailey in the Stan Sheriff Center stands Thursday night — mere minutes before UH played Utah on the second day of the Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic — spread rapidly across the college basketball nation.
Not only were the Bulldogs’ forwards in plain sight to the Sheriff crowd, an ESPNU camera crew was spot on and captured the action immediately. The endless, looping footage drew all kinds of attention to the second-year DHC yesterday, and it wasn’t necessarily the type of publicity the tourney’s organizers wanted.
It was a major distraction, but Arnold knew what to do once it broke out during warmups.
"We saw the fight go down, but Coach pulled us in and told us to get into the locker rooms to refocus," said Hiram Thompson, who played through a stiff back to score 13 points in a 68-55 win for UH (8-3). "So, we’re ready to play whoever’s on the court on Christmas."
That will be Mississippi State (8-4) — minus Sidney and Bailey — in the fifth-place game at 11:30 a.m. Both MSU forwards were suspended indefinitely yesterday, the team announced in a statement.
The talented Sidney, who’s played just two games in his two-year career because of suspensions, just returned from a one-game team ban for an outburst in practice on Monday. He went for 19 points and six rebounds off the bench against San Diego in his return on Thursday, but it didn’t take long for things to unwrap again.
"Oh man, I didn’t even get to see (the fight as it happened)," forward Joston Thomas said. "I was focusing on the game. … But that’s a little embarrassing for them to get into a fight.
"But it isn’t about them. It’s about us … so we’re going to turn our attention to them on the court."
DHC officials declined to release a statement about the incident, but MSU coach Rick Stansbury did.
"In my 13 years as a head coach, we’ve never had anything like this happen before," Stansbury said. "I am very disappointed in the actions of Elgin Bailey and Renardo Sidney and in no way does it reflect the overall picture of our program. It’s not how we want our men’s basketball team to be viewed nationally, and it is certainly not the conduct we expect of teammates in our program, nor will it be tolerated on any level."
The Rainbows have bigger things to worry about than MSU’s lack of Christmas cheer, namely finishing their host tournament 2-1 and heading into Western Athletic Conference play with some momentum.
Arnold noted the Bulldogs still pack punch without the two combatants. Guard Ravern Johnson leads MSU with 20.3 points per game, while Kodi Augustus snags eight boards per game. Before the suspensions, nine Bulldogs averaged 15 minutes or more per game.
UH held a light practice yesterday morning in preparation for its opponent from the Southeastern Conference. Arnold wasn’t about to discount the Bulldogs because they’re light a couple of bigs — albeit one as talented as Sidney, a pro prospect. MSU strung together wins without its top point guard, Dee Bost, who was ineligible for the fall semester, and Sidney, who missed the first nine games this season and all of last year for receiving improper benefits.
"Sometimes that brings a team together," Arnold said. "They’re still an outstanding team with great athleticism and great guards."
Zane Johnson has averaged 20 points over the last four games and is up to 14.0 ppg on the season.