Friday, February 20, 2015

Bryant Bulldogs 66 at Wagner Seahawks 65 (NCAA Basketball, NEC) - February 19, 2015

My time in the United States is quite limited and this might be the only college basketball season where I am here in its entirety. So I'm going to try to see as many venues as possible in the next couple of weeks, before the tournaments get under way. As of last weekend, there were still six gyms in the New York area that I had yet to visit, including one on Staten Island, home of Wagner College. The Seahawks play out of the Spiro Sports Center, about 20 minutes from the Staten Island ferry terminal by the S66 bus (there are also free campus shuttles from the terminal). This makes weekday evening games tough to get to unless you can sneak out right at 5, as you'll want to catch the 6 pm ferry and good luck with MTA actually running trains on time in the winter.

Alighting from the bus at the Wagner College entrance, you walk up the hill to the gym, which also includes a weight room and swimming pool. Tickets are $10 but I arrived a bit late after catching the 6:15 ferry and did not see anyone selling, so I just walked into the gym without a problem. I stood in the corner for a bit and took some pictures like the one below before moving to the seating area to join Gary and the King of Royalty Tours.

The gym is pretty basic, with benches along one side. The top row has a space between you and the wall where you can put your coat, very useful in the winter. The student sections are generally behind the baskets. There is a single concession stand where a slice of pizza is only $2.50; hot dogs and other typical fare is also available.

The atmosphere was pretty good, with over 1,400 fans on hand, many of them families with children who had perfect school attendance records in January (are we that desperate to build up self-esteem in youngsters?) but the amenities are sorely lacking. Two old scoreboards, a muffled sound system, and a single electronic board in front of the scorers table are all that will keep you informed. That doesn't mean it isn't worth a trip, though I would recommend going on a weekend afternoon when you can see the campus, which is quite beautiful and offers views of Manhattan.

The Game

Bryant came in at 9-5, two games up on Wagner as the season nears its end. Both teams have pretty much clinched spots in the eight-team tournament with FDU and Central Connecticut essentially eliminated, but there was still seeding to be considered. Bryant features Curtis Oakley (nephew of Charles, #34 above) and Dyami Starks (no relation to John, but 37th in the country with 18.4 PPG), while Wagner could brag about Mike Aaman (first in the nation alphabetically, #34 below) and Marcus Burton, whose 18.6 PPG put him one spot in front of Starks.

The first 15 minutes were fairly even, with both teams jacking up bricks and generally playing poor basketball, but Wagner ended the half on a 10-2 run to take a 35-26 lead into the locker room.

Aaman scored 6 of his team-high 22 early in the second half as Wagner built a 51-38 lead with 12 minutes to go, but over the next 6 minutes, Starks dropped 8 points in leading the Bulldogs back as they tied the game at 53. A short time later, with the game knotted at 57, Starks hit a three as the final media timeout was called, and Wagner again tied it up on an Aaman layup and a free throw from JoJo Cooper (#5 below).

With 85 seconds left, Bryant called timeout and Starks hit a jumper on the ensuing play, but Wagner could not get the tying basket on their next two possessions, leading them to foul Starks with 22 seconds left. Starks hit both freebies, but Corey Hansen replied with a three for the Seahawks with 15 seconds left. The game was not over, and after Starks was again fouled and again hit both free throws (giving him a game-high 28), Cooper drove down for an easy layup to pull Wagner within 1, 66-65 and only 6 seconds to go. A foul was in order, but Bryant's Joe O'Shea lost control of the ball and it rolled helplessly down the court as the few remaining seconds ticked away. Burton picked it up and launched a futile three point attempt as the buzzer sounded and Bryant escaped with an entertaining 66-65 win.

The game was not well-played with both teams taking too many poor shots (36% combined shooting, only 6/36 from beyond the arc) but it was still fun to be there. The game took under two hours and we were able to make the 9:06 bus back to the 9:30 ferry. Only then did we encounter the MTA's lovely winter random schedule, where trains may or may not show up on time or at all. A 17-minute wait for  the R train was our reward for venturing out on this very cold evening. After 15 years in Tokyo (where trains run on a schedule and meet that schedule 99% of the time) I am really having difficulty dealing with such a terrible transit system.

Next Up

My weekend will see me visit three more college basketball venues, starting with Fairfield in Bridgeport, then taking a ferry to Long Island where I will see Stony Brook's new sports center. On Sunday, I go back to Long Island for Hofstra. Check back next week for some recaps.



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