Friday, January 29, 2016

Niagara Purple Eagles 69 at Marist Red Foxes 66 (NCAA Basketball, MAAC) - January 28, 2016


I had planned to take a trip to Poughkeepsie to see Marist hoops last weekend, but the winter storm that paralyzed New York City forced me to postpone that journey until Thursday. It worked out quite well, as there was also a women's game to see beforehand. Interestingly, the two visiting schools were different, with Siena facing the ladies in a fight for first place in the MAAC, while the guys took on Niagara in a battle of also-rans.

MTA

Poughkeepsie is the last stop on Metro-North's Hudson Line, which runs parallel to the Hudson River. The ride on the express train is just under two hours and costs $35.50 return if you travel during off-peak hours. Make sure to sit on the left side on the way up for nice views of the river.



Anyway, Metro-North is part of New York's massive transit system, known as MTA. This stands for Metropolitan Transit Authority, but a more accurate acronym is Maybe Train Arrives. Certainly, I've been spoiled after so long in Japan, where trains almost always run on schedule, but the service here in New York is just not very good, particularly outside of commuting hours. Schedules are rarely followed, signal outages are common, and constant track work forces weekend line closures. To be fair, the system runs 24/7, but that doesn't benefit me very often; I'd rather have more regular and reliable service between 6 am and midnight. I have been late to games on several occasions when a train failed to show or was significantly behind schedule, so much so that I leave 30 minutes earlier than recommended by their trip planner. With trains to Poughkeepsie leaving Grand Central only once per hour, I decided to take the 1:43, which would give me some time to grab lunch at a bar before heading to McCann Arena for the women's game, which started at 5.

Of course, MTA had other ideas. The train left Grand Central on time, but at the first stop in Harlem, the engine crapped out. Yep, it just stopped working. Safe to say that this never happened to me in my time in Japan, but New Yorkers are used to this, so everyone just crossed to platform to catch the local train to Croton-Harmon, where we switched to a train that was waiting for us. I was surprised that nobody was in the least bit angry (New Yorker drivers honk their horn approximately 1 nanosecond after the light turns green), but in the end, we arrived only 40 minutes behind schedule. I decided to stick with my plan to have a decent lunch and enjoyed some time at the Derby, just a block from the station, forgoing the first quarter of the women's game.

For those of you saying "first world problems", I agree that I am complaining about trivialities, but I will say that the New York transit system is not "first world" and the one thing that keeps the city from truly being world class. If you plan a trip to New York and will visit anywhere outside Manhattan, be prepared for some waiting, either on the platform or on the train.

McCann Arena

Anyway, I left the pub and walked the mile or so to Marist's campus, my second trip here after seeing a football game there in 2014. McCann Arena is just to the left of the main entrance to campus and from the outside is rather nondescript. The only indication of basketball being played was the steady crowd walking towards the entrance. As it was dark and my crappy camera is broken, I did not take a picture of the exterior.



The first thing I noticed upon entering was the MAAC championship trophy, which was won by Manhattan the last two seasons. Ironically, it has never been won by Marist, who were members of the ECAC Metro Conference when they made their only two tournament appearances in 1986-87. The most famous basketball alumnus is Rik Smits, who was drafted #2 overall and enjoyed a long career with the Indiana Pacers. Smits donated the floor, which is dominated by the Red Fox logo. His number 2 jersey is also retired.



Before you enter the gym proper, there is a small hallway with all the MAAC championships listed. You generally only hear about college football and basketball, but there are 21 other college sports that rely on the money brought in by the more popular activities. It is good that schools recognize these achievements equally and visitors should take a minute or two to see what at which sport the school excels (Swimming and Diving are the big winners at Marist).



McCann Arena is similar to other NCAA basketball venues, with chair backs on the sideline and bleachers in the end zone. Note that the cheerleaders and pep band sit in the end zone by the main entrance. You can stand here as well, the view from there is below.



There was a Hall of Fame with trophies and other mementos, but it was being used for another purpose so I did not go inside. There was also a small concession stand but having just eaten, I did not bother to have a look. Outside food is not allowed, but nobody checks, so you can sneak in a bottle of Coke as I did.

Women's Game

As mentioned, it was a doubleheader, with the women playing first. End zone tickets were $8, while those on the sideline were $10, a bargain for two games. I bought a sideline seat but was surprised at how crowded it was for the women's game. Turns out that the Marist ladies are quite successful, having represented the conference at the NCAA tournament from 2006-14, including a Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2007, where they lost to eventual champion Tennessee.



As the crowd was predominantly older (5:00 starts will do that), the chair back seats were in high demand (above), so I decided to sit in one of the end zones and watched the game from there (view below).



When I arrived, Siena was down 24-16 with about five minutes to go in the second quarter (the women play four 10-minute periods) and they did not score a point the rest of the half, while Marist added 8 points to make it 32-16. Nothing changed in the second half as Siena continued to throw up brick after brick, with a few air balls in between. At one point they were 5/37 from the floor; it was brutal to watch. The final was 66-37, a surprising rout for a game between two teams tied for first place. It was Marist's 25th straight win over Siena, so there is some psychological barrier that prevents the Saints from competing against the Red Foxes.

In general, not enough young women play basketball competitively to make mid-major women's hoops interesting. There are a few good teams in the power conferences but they seem to be the same year after year, with UConn the prime example. If you are a talented basketball player, you are going to go to be recruited by one of the top schools, and there isn't enough talent to filter down to the lesser-known colleges. The result is games like this one, a blowout that was very tough to watch.

Men's Game

Many fans left after the women's game and I moved to my seat during the break. Those fans that remained seemed to have little interest in the game at hand, moving around during play and generally socializing more than observing. With Marist coming in at 1-8 while Niagara was not much better at 3-9, perhaps ignoring the game was a good strategy, but in the end, this battle was much more entertaining than the one that preceded it.



Marist used some hot shooting from beyond the arc (7/13) to take a 40-29 lead at halftime. They continued to shoot well in the second half, taking a 58-43 lead with 12 minutes to go. Then the wheels came off. Over the next 8 minutes, the Red Foxes missed all but one jumper and turned the ball over three times to allow the Purple Eagles back into the game, down 62-58. Matt Scott then drained a three, only the second of the game for Niagara, and the lead was down to one. Another Marist turnover was followed by a Scott layup and the visitors had their first lead of the contest at 63-62 with just over three minutes to play. Marist fought back to tie the game at 66 with 16 seconds left and overtime loomed. I should mention at this point that the train back to New York was scheduled for 9:54, and it was about 9:20 at this point. It is a 20-minute walk to the station, so I had plenty of time, but if the game was extended, then I would be waiting an extra hour for the 10:54 train, so I hoped for a winner from either team. Niagara called timeout and ran a play for Karonn Davis, who was 0/8 from the field so far. Amazingly, he hit a three from the corner with 2.7 seconds left, and the Purple Eagles celebrated by calling timeout, while I celebrated silently.



Marist then called timeout, and my celebration turned to concern as I began to wonder if I would make the train. When Marist couldn't inbound the ball, they called their final timeout and I had a minor conniption. It was 9:30 by now and I couldn't wait much longer, but both teams were thankfully out of timeouts. On the next play, Marist's Kristinn Palsson took the inbounds pass and heaved a desperation attempt but it hit a speaker on the roof (the shot was ruled a turnover) to end the game. As the buzzer sounded, I turned and ran out the door, jogging part way to the station. I shouldn't have worried, the train didn't even leave on time, but at least I made it and was back home just after midnight, happy to have seen a pretty entertaining basketball game.

Stats

Scott led all scorers with 32 points and 13 boards. Despite shooting 10/21 from three-point range (compared to 3/15 for Niagara), Marist lost due to poor rebounding and free throw shooting. In particular, there were 37 rebounds on the Marist end and Niagara took 14 of those, leading to several second chances. At the other end, the Red Foxes only grabbed 5 of 28 boards. As well, Marist went 6/14 from the charity stripe, compared to 12/18 for Niagara. The point of this paragraph is that basketball requires several skills and success at one or two does not guarantee a win, you need to play a complete game and sometimes it takes a look at the stats to really understand why one team prevailed.

Best,

Sean

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