Kennesaw State fans cheer on Owls from afar in March Madness debut



Kennesaw State University’s Convocation Center started to rock as March Madness descended for the first time in school history.

Cowbells rang and students screamed while the men’s basketball team led for much of Friday’s game against Xavier University. But elation turned to dejection in the final minutes of Kennesaw State’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

Roughly 700 fans, some of whom skipped class to join the campus watch party, turned silent as victory slipped away. But not even 72-67 loss could deflate the school spirit that’s been building all year.

“My feelings are hurt. They tried really hard. They did great so far; it was a great season,” said Kennesaw State junior Kay Rodgers.

Said junior Lily Kostka: “I feel sad but watching the game like, they put their butts on the line. They worked hard.”

It had the markings of a classic March Madness story: Kennesaw State won just one game during the 2019-2020 season. And for a few hours on Friday, the campus reveled in college basketball’s biggest dance.

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

“Nobody knows where Kennesaw State is,” said Austin Trask, a junior. “Seeing them on the national stage now and everybody gets to watch — it’s really cool.”

Each time the Owls scored, the campus crowd stood up. Cowbells rang. Students screamed. A big first-half dunk from Demond Robinson made everyone go wild.

Kennesaw State junior Christian Smith marveled at how far the team has come, calling the journey “an emotional rollercoaster.”

“I actually watched most of these guys when they came to the school, and it’s really fun to see them grow and develop through the years,” Smith said.

Morgan Bennett skipped her physics class to catch the game. The junior started watching games partway through this season.

“Maybe I should have come to this sooner,” Bennett said. “Like this is really fun.”

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Credit: Natrice Miller / Natrice.Miller@

Campus has been buzzing since the Owls secured a spot in the tournament. The bookstore stocked about 800 commemorative T-shirts. Sales were already brisk before Friday, and officials expected to sell out.

At Miller’s Ale House, a sports bar near the Kennesaw campus, dozens of alumni and fans sported the school’s colors of black and gold as they crowded around the many big-screen TVs.

The alumni office handed out rally towels and buttons for graduates of Kennesaw State and Southern Polytechnic State University, a nod to the two schools’ merger in 2015.

Whoops, hollers and the occasional “Rebound, baby” punctuated each good play. Later, as Kennesaw State suffered a second-half scoring drought, nervous energy filled the room.

Credit: Vanessa McCray

Credit: Vanessa McCray

The team’s run was “magical,” said Tanjalon Solomon-Lewis, alumni association president, as the final seconds ticked away.

“Hopefully, we’ll come back and do it again next year,” she said. “We’re sad, but there’s nothing for these guys to be sad about. Nothing at all.”

The university sponsored a fan bus to take 50 students to the game in Greensboro, N.C. A spokeswoman said the seats filled quickly, and many more students and alumni made the nearly six hour drive on their own. About 150 people had signed up by Thursday morning to attend a pregame alumni tailgate party in Greensboro.

Among those who made the trip: The banana bunch.

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Three of the five of students who dress in banana costumes for Kennesaw State games got free tickets — courtesy of athletic director Milton Overton.

Freshman Collin Sheppard met Overton in a parking garage after the victory over Liberty University in the ASUN Conference title game that earned the Owls a tournament berth. The two exchanged phone numbers and the athletic director made good on his promise of tickets for the bananas.

“I definitely think (it gives me a sense of community),” said Sheppard, as he waited in the stands for tip off. “I go to pretty much all the men’s and women’s games. I’m going to start going to baseball after the tournament. I don’t want to mess with the mojo.”

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

In the leadup to the game, coach Amir Abdur-Rahim, a Marietta native, said seeing fans drive hundreds of miles to cheer on the team “means the world to me.” He said the student support is a sign that his players carry themselves well on campus and in the community.

“That’s not just because it’s March Madness. It’s not just because we’ve won,” he said. “It’s because these guys are a part of the student body.”

As the alumni party back in Kennesaw wound down, Solomon-Lewis said goodbye to friends. She had two words to share with them: “Next year.”

Sports editor Chris Vivlamore contributed to this article.


This story was reported in partnership with Fresh Take Georgia, a nonprofit digital news service at the Center for Sustainable Journalism at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. Visit them at

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