Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fairleigh Dickinson Knights 75 at LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds 69 (NCAA Basketball, NEC) - January 5, 2015

This year I'll be going to far fewer Big 4 events in the New York area and to more places I've yet to visit. Not only are they often costly, I find that the majority of NBA and NHL contests are not that entertaining, particularly in these first weeks of the year before the playoff push. When the summer rolls around, I'll give MLB another chance, and of course the NFL is always intriguing, but for the next few months, I'm going to try to visit as many new venues as possible.

At this time of year, the best bet is college basketball, with 351 Division I schools around the country, including over a dozen in the greater NYC area, of which I've seen only six. Last week, I revisited St. Francis (NY) as they beat Columbia; yesterday I made my first trip to the Wellness Recreation and Athletic Center (WRAC), home of the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, who were hosting Fairleigh Dickinson. LIU is Just a half-mile from St. Francis; I'm not sure there are two Division I schools closer. Interestingly, St. Francis had a 4 p.m. start against Bryant but work precluded me from making the doubleheader.

I arrived at LIU (located just above DeKalb station) about an hour before the 7 p.m. start. Lots of small fast food restaurants lie along Flatbush Avenue, with Two Brothers Pizza offering cheese slices for $1. Who said New York is expensive?!

Outside the WRAC, there is not a single sign that a Division I event is occurring inside. LIU Brooklyn is no anonymous school, they made the NCAA tournament in three consecutive years from 2011-13, losing to North Carolina and Michigan State in the "second round" and bowing out to James Madison in the First Four last year, but still nobody really cares about mid-major basketball when you have the Nets playing just a block away. A lonely student sat in the box office, where tickets were $10 for general admission (an extra $5 gets you a chairback in a special section that you can see at the top of the photo above). If you need support and want to save the fiver, just sit in the last row of GA and use the wall.

At the top of the stairs is the LIU Sports Hall of Fame, with several plaques of people I have never heard of. That's not a criticism at all; I enjoyed reading about the achievements of these athletes, few of whom turned pro. All schools honour their past stars regardless of their exploits post-graduation, and it is nice to see LIU Brooklyn doing it so prominently. There is also a sculpture of some blackbirds over the door, reminding you of the team's nickname.

The gym itself consists of benches on both sides, as well as steep risers at both ends. When I walked in, the ladies' teams were in the middle of their second half. I sat down behind the FDU bench and watched as they came back from 10 points down to take a brief lead before LIU rallied for the 10 point win. It was interesting to watch the coaches interact with the referees and their players; they take these games just as seriously as any power conference coach (rightly so).

Between games I took a quick look around, but there is little else to see, other than a small concession stand with cheap but limited eats. Overall, the WRAC is a nice facility for students with a pool and workout gym, but as a basketball court for fans, it is as basic as they come. That shouldn't stop you from attending though, it's Division 1 basketball for $10 after all!

The Game

This was only the second game of Northeast Conference play, with FDU coming off a win over Central Connecticut while LIU were losers to Bryant. It didn't take long for the evening's theme to be established: fouls and lots of 'em. It seemed like every hand check, bump, and reach-in was called, and the first half seemed to take forever. FDU built a nice 40-30 lead as they went to the break, led by freshman Darien Anderson with an incredible 21 points.

The second half began the same way, with the first foul being called after 25 seconds and the next 4 seconds later. It seemed like the refs were trying to one-up each other, but in all fairness they were calling them according to the rules, just a lot tighter than usual. The Knights maintained their 10-point advantage until a monstrous alley-oop from Landon Atterberry (with the assist to Joel Hernandez) sent LIU on a 10-0 run capped by another thunderous dunk from Hernandez to tie the game at 60 (below, New Yorker sports fans will recognize Fuzzy in the background, check the comments for more on this legendary sports traveler).

Unfortunately, Hernandez was whistled for a technical for hanging on the rim (just what basketball needs: more stupid rules that slow the game down) but they withstood the two free throws and took a 65-62 lead on a trey from Gerrell Martin (#4 below).

That was their last meaningful field goal unfortunately, as they spent the remaining 4 minutes chucking up bricks, going 0/4 with two turnovers as FDU regained the lead and held on through the final minute, sinking enough of their free throws down the stretch to win 75-69.

This game was painful to watch. There were 49 fouls called, but even more annoying were all the substitutions. Players on both teams were shuttled in and out with reckless abandon. Why is this annoying? Because of the 20,000-decibel substitution buzzer! 1 don't know if acoustics are different here but I've never noticed it that loud in other venues. Add in all the timeouts, when the buzzer is sounded to warn the teams to hurry up, and by the end of things, I had a nice little headache. I don't understand why things have to be so earsplitting in such a small gym, it really WRACs your hearing.


The only MacDonald in Division I is Matt of FDU (#3 below). He finished with 5 points, exactly the margin of victory!

Next Up 

With my hearing restored, I'm hoping to see FDU (based in Teaneck, NJ, although their home court is across a river in Hackensack) at home on Thursday as they take on St. Francis. Both teams are 2-0, so the winner will have the NEC lead! Both work and weather might still make that tough to get to, but if not, I'll have a recap on Friday.



1 comment:

  1. Sean,

    Fuzzy is probably the pioneer of sports travel. having been to countless hockey, baseball and college basketball games. In the days before social media, he was written about in the Baltimore Sun, New York Times (at least twice), Trenton (NJ) Times and Sport magazine. Some of his trips and experiences were legendary. At one point, he had carte blanche with almost all the NHL on-ice officials and at least one hockey hall of famer (Bernie Parent). He was also in the last scene in the last episode of the Sex and the City tv series.

    I was very happy that I beat his single season hockey game count last season, passing a legend. (There are at least two others though who have higher single season attendance totals than me.)