Sunday, January 31, 2016

Bryant Bulldogs 71 at Sacred Heart Pioneers 72 (NCAA Basketball, NEC) - January 30, 2016


If you are a regular reader, you know that there are 351 Division I basketball programs in the country,  and at least that number of arenas (some schools play at two facilities), making NCAA hoops a great sport for winter roadtripping. I'm always looking to add to my venue count in this sport, so when fellow sports traveler Gary of Royalty Tours mentioned that he would be driving to see the Sacred Heart Pioneers on Saturday afternoon, I said that I would join him. The campus is in Fairfield, Connecticut, close to New York but not easily accessible on transit, so I wanted to take advantage of sharing a rental car. When I checked the overall schedule, I saw that Yale had a night game in nearby New Haven (the two venues are only 20 miles apart) and Gary agreed to go there as well instead of watching AHL hockey at Bridgeport.

Gary picked me up in just after 1:00 and the King and Frank joined for the short ride to Sacred Heart. We arrived about an hour before the 3:30 tip and parked a short walk away from the William H. Pitt Health and Recreation Center, more commonly known as the Pitt Center.



There isn't much to see outside the gym, other than a sitting sculpture of the Pioneer mascot, Big Red, who has a very evil grin, a bit out of place at a Roman Catholic university. Who wants to sit next to this guy?



Inside, there are a few trophies honouring those Pioneer teams and individuals who brought glory to the school.



The gym has several banners, with fencing the sport that seems to generate the most success. Sacred Heart did win the Division II basketball national championship in 1986; they transitioned to Division I in 1999-2000 and have yet to qualify for March Madness.



The gym itself is very basic. There are two seating areas on either sideline, and a small end zone section where the cheerleaders rest between performances. Tickets are $12 for the lower seats on the far sideline, which are benches but come with seatbacks, while the rest of the seating area is $10 for general admission. There is a tiny concession stand with very limited options, such as a $2 hot dog. I didn't notice a grill anywhere near here, so I wouldn't recommend buying anything other than a can of soda here, a bargain at $1. There are also vending machines, where bottles are $1.50.



This is really one of the least appealing venues I've seen for college basketball. The campus is in the middle of nowhere, and there were few fans to add to the atmosphere, perhaps scared away after being told to "SHU" repeatedly. To be fair, the school itself is only 53 years old, and it doesn't have a storied athletic history, but they could do a bit more to make it stand out.



The visitors were the Bryant Bulldogs and both teams came in at 4-5 in NEC play. Cane Broome (#1 for Sacred Heart in grey and red below) was the leading scorer in the NEC, averaging 21.9 PPG, good for 14th in the country. Bryant's Dan Garvin (#22 below) is from nearby Bethel and brought a small cheering section along with him. The first half was fast-paced with a lot of back-and-forth play and relatively few fouls as the Pioneers led 38-35 at the break despite 14 points from Garvin.



In the second half, the refs started to call the game much tighter (there was no real change in the physicality of the play) and as a result, the game started to drag. Neither team shot particularly well, but Sacred Heart had built a 69-64 lead with a minute to go. Bryant called timeout with 35 seconds left and off that play, Hunter Ware drained a three while being fouled by Sean Hoehn. Ware sank the free throw, and then on the ensuing inbounds play, pressed Sacred Heart into turning the ball over out of bounds. The refs took an eternity to verify that play, but it was Bryant ball, and off the inbounds, Ware immediately swished another three in a play that was identical to the one before. That's seven points in seven seconds of game time (and nearly four minutes of real time thanks to the refs) and it was 71-69 Bulldogs.



Sacred Heart called timeout and no surprise that the ball was going to Broome. He swept to the right elbow, stepped back, and launched a three that rattled in with 11 seconds left to give the Pioneers the 72-71 lead. Another timeout, another delay as the refs checked something or other, and then Bryant had one final chance. Shane McLaughlin (#4 above) dribbled away a few seconds then drove to the basket, only to miss the layup in a crowd as the buzzer sounded. Pioneers win! You can watch the last 5 minutes here, note that the final minute of game play took over ten minutes in real time. It might seem like an exciting ending, but it took so freaking long to play out that most fans just wanted the game to finish either way so they could get on with their lives.



There's your final above. Garvin finished with 25 points, while Broome had 17 for the winners.

Notes

I mentioned how several schools play games at two facilities: one on-campus gym for lesser opponents and then a larger multipurpose venue for conference games. St. John's and UConn are two examples. In these cases, only the campus arena counts as the "home" arena and those are the ones I am interested in visiting. My count after this one was 37.

I saw Bryant on the road last season when they beat Wagner by a point. Those are the only two 1-point games that the Bulldogs have played over those two seasons. They are based in Smithfield, Rhode Island and I plan to visit there next season.



Basketball can be a great sport but there are too many timeouts and other delays as the game winds down that make those final few seconds excruciatingly long. On three occasions in the dying minutes, the refs had to double check to make sure they got the right call on an out-of-bounds play or something else. So they'd stand there and watch the replay a bunch of times while fans got restless. Get used to pictures like the one above as replay is becoming a crutch for these guys (in all three cases the original call was correct). Seriously, ten minutes to play one? I really wish somebody would do something, when a 40-minute game takes over two hours, there is something wrong.

Best,

Sean

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