The Northeast Conference men’s championship game between Bryant and Wagner was significantly delayed during the second half Tuesday night after a large fight broke out in the stands behind the Wagner bench.
The game, at Bryant’s Chace Athletic Center in Smithfield, Rhode Island, came to a standstill for around 30 minutes after the skirmish broke out during a timeout with the Bulldogs leading 68-32 with 4:37 to go.
The fight appeared to be between visiting Wagner fans and Bryant fans. Several Wagner players had to be restrained, but none of them appeared to make it into the stands. Wagner’s Will Martinez tried, though, and was the only player ejected in the incident.
Bryant athletic director Bill Smith grabbed the mic after some order was restored, laying out ground rules for the postgame. He said Wagner players would have to leave the court before fans rushed it.
Smith also said fans would be removed from the student section of the stands. The Wagner fan section appeared to be mostly cleared, including the band, and a few Bryant fans were removed by law enforcement officials. Parents and family members were allowed back for the finish, with police and security serving as a buffer between Bryant students and Wagner fans.
Eventually, players for both teams returned to the court and finished up the game, seemingly without incident.
“I didn’t see any of it — how any of that thing started. All I knew is we needed to finish the game in a first-class manner,” Smith said after the game. “Get both teams back on the court, shake hands at the end and finish the game.”
Smith said it was a “very emotionally-charged game” and that the Bryant gym doesn’t have a “natural barrier” for the visiting team.
“Unfortunately I don’t think there was anything else we could have done that would have prevented what occurred,” he said. “It’s just been an incredible night and we’re going to move on.”
Bryant won 70-43 to earn an automatic bid to the men’s NCAA Tournament for the first time.
“I don’t know how it started, why it started, what took place,” Bryant coach Jared Grasso said of the skirmish in the stands. “Thankfully our guys were not a part of it.
“The game should have been finished so these guys can celebrate with their fans. I know there was a point they were talking about clearing the fans out. I said, ‘We’re not telling these fans to leave.’
“We’ve sold out the last (four) home games. Kids are sitting outside at 9 o’clock in the morning for tickets at 12:30. There are people who drove seven hours to be at this game. They’re not leaving – it’s not happening.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bryant vs. Wagner NEC title game delayed as fight breaks out in stands