Monday, February 23, 2015

NCAA Hoops Weekend - February 20-21, 2015


The college hoops regular season is nearing completion, with just one more week before tournament play starts. As I expect to be in Oklahoma this coming weekend, this past one was my last chance to add some local venues to my list. Thanks to a little help from my friend Eddie, I was able to see three games in three venues in three conferences in the two days, bringing my venue count to 529 (only 27 of those are NCAA basketball courts though, still 324 to go).

St. Peter's Peacocks at Fairfield Stags 



The first stop was Bridgeport, CT, where the Fairfield Stags were hosting St. Peter's in a MAAC battle. Getting to Bridgeport is pretty easy via the Metro North out of Grand Central, but getting to Grand Central requires a ride on the subway. As has been the case over the past few weeks, that was the hard part. Trains in my area of town leave every 5 minutes on the weekend. As I was walking to the station, one train passed by, so I figured I have a couple of minutes to wait by the time I got to the platform. Hahaha, what was I thinking? The next train appeared 17 minutes later as passengers shivered and fumed. Actually most New Yorkers are used to the abysmal service and seem to accept it with good grace, but I have yet to achieve such inner peace. Anyway, I was sure I would miss the Metro North connection, but I arrived at Grand Central four minutes before the scheduled departure, raced to buy a ticket and then ran to the train, boarding with about 30 seconds to spare. If you are in New York City and you need to be somewhere on time, allow for 30 minutes extra when travelling on the weekend in the winter.



Anyway, I disembarked from the train 90 minutes later and walked the 5 minutes to Webster Bank Arena, where the AHL's Bridgeport Sound Tigers also play. It seems like a good venue for hockey, but it is not well-suited for basketball. All tickets are $15, with only 3 sections on each side of the court made available for seating, while a black curtain hangs over one end of the court and displays the team's rather limited achievements.



Even with a relatively small turnout (2,867), the seating area seems very crowded, yet the large size of the building prevents any real atmosphere from forming during the game. Concessions are minimal with the best option perhaps the Limerick Pub (below), which had some TVs and draft beer, which is not allowed in the seating area. I'll return for an AHL game this season and look forward to seeing the venue when it is fully operational.



The Stags came in at 4-13 and were on a ten-game losing streak, while St. Peter's was 7-10 in MAAC play. I saw this matchup last year at Jersey City, when Desi Washington hit a last-second three to give the Peacocks the win. Washington also beat Fairfield with similar last second shots in Bridgeport as well as their tournament game, getting him some national exposure.



The game was scheduled to start at 2 pm, but a ladies game before that went long, and then they had a ceremony for senior day (the Stags only have one senior, Steve Johnston, so it was a quick ceremony). By the time we tipped off, it was 2:30 and I was concerned about making the 4:45 ferry. Fortunately, the game moved along quickly, with both teams holding the ball for long periods of time before shooting or running a play. Just before halftime, however, the ball went out of bounds with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. There was a question as to which team touched it last so the officials decided to take five minutes to do a replay review to see which team would inbound the ball before the buzzer. I found this silly as it is impossible to do anything with one-tenth of a second on the clock, and in the end Fairfield inbounded without running a play, taking a 27-26 lead into the half.

Fairfield showed poor scheduling during the halftime as well. They had a long ceremony honouring past athletes, and when that finished, the little kids came out to play. But they had only a couple of minutes before being shooed off the court as the teams returned from the break, leading their coach to question the guy organizing the whole thing. The coach eventually explained to the kids that sometimes grownups are idiots, and I guess everyone understood, but I hope the kids got to play after the game or are invited back.

Anyway, the the Stags maintained their small advantage as both teams missed shot after shot throughout the second half. With the score 41-36 and 8 minutes left, Fairfield went on an 11-1 run over the next seven minutes, mostly because St. Peter's couldn't make a bucket to save their lives, and won handily 57-43.



The star was Tyler Nelson (far left below), who finished with 26 points on 8/15 shooting including four from beyond the arc. Washington led St. Peters with 10 points as the team went 9/41 (22%) in 2-point shooting (they were 7/13 from long distance, bizarrely). This wasn't a bad game; it was close until the final few minutes, and it was entertaining to listen to the Fairfield fans, who are definitely not fair-weather this season, cheer on their team to a well-deserved win. Still, Webster Bank Arena has earned its place as my least favourite college basketball venue, as it is just too big to capture the atmosphere that makes the college game more entertaining than the NBA.



The game finished around 4:25, giving me just enough time to walk over to the ferry, which runs between Bridgeport and Port Jefferson 365 days a year, and is very useful for those traveling to Boston from the Hamptons or other parts of eastern Long Island. The pedestrian fare is $18, which you pay at the purser's desk, getting a ticket which you hand in when you alight. The ride takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes, and as I looked for a seat, I saw a door in the distance with those magic words: Cocktail Lounge. A small bar with several tables waited inside (draft beer for $6.50), and with TVs showing replays of that afternoon's Islanders-Capitals game, I settled down and enjoyed a couple of pints to pass the time.

Binghamton Bearcats at Stony Brook Seawolves



Despite the weather, the ferry arrived at Port Jefferson on schedule, and Eddie was there to pick me up. Port Jeff is very close to Stony Brook, who were hosting a night game in their shiny new gym, the Island Federal Credit Union (IFCU) Arena. I came out to Stony Brook last year to see one of their final games in their old gym. The new one is in the same building and uses the same main entrance, but is on the other side of the lobby. It is very impressive, with red seats on all four sides and a wide concourse all the way around. Two concession windows were doing a brisk business, while those with season tickets could enjoy a free buffet downstairs.



There was a surprisingly large crowd (3,724) who had braved the elements to see this one. The visitors were the Binghamton Bearcats (4-10) and they were no match for the Seawolves (9-4), who took a 9-2 lead early and never relinquished the advantage, although Binghamton did get within a basket a couple of times.



Roland Nyama (in white below) led all scorers with 22, including 6 of 7 treys, while Willie Rodriguez (in dark green below) managed a double-double with 15 points and 11 boards in the loss.



Stony Brook won 64-52 in a game that wasn't particularly compelling. The America East tournament will be held at the higher seeded schools this season, so Stony Brook will have at least one playoff game here, which is worth attending if you happen to be in the area.



William & Mary Tribe at Hofstra Pride

On Sunday, it was a return to Long Island, this time for some Colonial Athletic action at Hofstra. With game time at 4:30 and Google Maps suggesting a trip would take just under two hours, I followed my own advice and gave myself 30 extra minutes. Good thing I did, as I needed every second. Yet again MTA was randomly running trains, so I waited far longer than usual. There were also no express routes on the weekend due to construction, so it took over an hour to get to Jamaica, normally a 45-minute trek. Then the NICE bus from Jamaica took nearly an hour instead of its scheduled 40 minutes. Thankfully, the bus from Hempstead Terminal was on time, and I walked into the Mack Sports Complex at 4:30 on the dot.



There was a small line for tickets, with the gentleman in front of me taking ages to buy a pair. He didn't want to sit by the band, and didn't want to sit on the aisle, and on and on and on. Just buy a freaking ticket, it's a 2-hour game for God's sake! There were two ticket windows, so some thoughtful fans at the other one, seeing me boiling over at yet another senseless delay, allowed me in front of them to pick up the cheapest single ($12). I walked into the court with 15 seconds having been played and settled in to my seat, finally able to relax. Turns out that I was one row in front of Gary and the King in a nice coincidence and we chatted throughout the contest, mostly to complain about the horrid transit (little did we know that the ride home would take nearly 3 hours!)



The visitors were the William and Mary Tribe (10-5) so it was a Tribe vs. Pride day, with Hofstra coming in just a game back. Marcus Thornton (no relation to the NBA player of the same name) was the guy to watch for the visitors, his 19.3 PPG ranked 25"' in the country.



This turned out to be a great game. The Tribe scored first on a hoop-and-harm and took the early 3-0 lead. Amazingly, they never trailed from that point, although Hofstra would tie the game on a few occasions. With W&M up 73-63 and 4:31 to go, Hofstra's Juan'ya Green made back-to-back threes to get the home team back in it. They were Green's fourth and fifth treys of the half, and he followed that up with a couple of layups and two foul shots as Hofstra fought back to tie the game at 78 with 34 seconds left.



Overtime loomed as the Tribe advanced the ball. The Pride had a foul to give and used it, leaving William & Mary with ten seconds to run a play. Thornton dribbled and then drove to the basket, where he was fouled (controversially) by Malik Nichols. That is Thornton flying through the air below while Nichols falls out of the frame.



The home fans were not happy as Thornton drained the first foul shot. Hofstra called their final timeout, perhaps in an attempt to ice Thornton, but he sank the second as  well, and Hofstra had only three seconds to go for the win. Dion Nesmith dribbled and as he went to shoot, the ball flew out of his hands. Surely a foul! Nope, the horn sounded and the game was over, with the Tribe taking an 80-78 decision. Thornton finished with 23, while Green's 21 led the losers.



A very well-played game, with both teams shooting over 45% from the field and only 29 fouls.  Hofstra committed 13 turnovers compared to just 7 for the Tribe, but the difference in the game came at the free throw line, where W&M went 17/20 while the Pride were only 7/10. With the win, William & Mary are in a four-way tie atop the CAA, which promises to hold an interesting tournament in Baltimore during the second weekend in March.

Notes

I much prefer conference games, where rivalries exist and the teams know each other. Too many teams schedule non-conference patsies, which makes overall records meaningless. All team records referred to in this post are conference only.

Next Up

I'm supposed to fly to Dallas this weekend and head up to Oklahoma City for some college baseball, but the weather forecast tells me that the game will be snowed out. I still hope to see AHL hockey in OKC, along with Sooner basketball before returning to the Dallas area for UT-Arlington hoops and Dallas Baptist baseball. Check back to see if I made it!

Best,

Sean

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