Thursday, February 25, 2016

Hartford Hawks 82 at Maine Black Bears 74 (NCAA Basketball, America East) - February 24, 2016

The second game of this trip featured the Maine Black Bears basketball team. Like many schools in the northeast, hockey is the primary sport, and that is no different here, where Black Bears hockey enjoyed two national championships back in the 1990s while boasting future stars such as Paul Kariya. The basketball team, on the other hand, plays in the America East and has never appeared in the NCAA tournament. To make matters worse, the team doesn't play on campus in Orono, choosing instead to host visitors at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, about 15 miles south.

The arena is very easy to get to, just a few blocks off I-395, a spur from I-95. Parking is free in two lots behind the venue; note that the lot closest to the building is reserved for those who have prepaid.

The box office is located at the Southwest entrance shown above, but before you go in, walk around to the front to see the Paul Bunyan statue that is reported to be the biggest in the world. Note the Canadian flag as well; Bangor is just 96 miles from St. Stephen, New Brunswick.

Tickets are $11 for general admission (end zones) and $13 for reserved seats. As the team barely draws over 1,000 in a venue that seats 5,800, you can easily move around, so get the GA ticket and do just that.

Upon entering, you will see the Maine Basketball Hall of Fame to your right. This takes up most of the concourse on this side of the building and focuses mostly on high school hoops, so it is of limited interest to visitors.

Below is the first display that shows teams from the early part of the 20th century, which is probably the most intriguing bit.

As mentioned, the team does not draw well, and thus you can get pictures of a completely empty concourse.

There is no scoreboard above center court and only one video board at the far end of the venue. This is quite good quality and shows the game as it is going on.

The stats boards are quite weird however, as they are along the side above the seating bowl. Tough to read quickly when there are 10 players on the court.

You might have noticed the inflatable head in the full-court photo above, this is the Black Bear that is actually kept inflated during the entire game.

On the promotions side, it was Beach Night and many students dressed up in t-shirts, shorts, and sunglasses to make it look like they were at the beach, including several members of the band. As it was 32 degrees out and freezing rain, I did not participate in this promotion.

It was also dollar dog night, and I did participate in that, ordering a couple. I wasn't expecting them to be pink. Truly pink. Turns out that Kayem has something called Old Tyme Reds and when they are steamed, a pink dye really comes out. When I first had a look, I found it completely unappetizing. Perhaps this affected my perception, but the taste was entirely different than any hot dog I have had before, bland and not meaty at all, one of the worst I have ever had. One of the buns I was given had two wieners inside, normally a lucky find, but not on this night; I threw the extra one out. I guess these are common in Maine as I saw them at another event later on the trip, but I'll be avoiding them going forward.

Overall, the Cross Insurance Center is not a very good venue for Black Bears basketball. They should really be playing in a smaller venue on campus and trying to build a following amongst their students. College hoops isn't that interesting without a strong student presence and that's the case here. Still, if you want to see college basketball in Maine, this is your only choice.

The Game

Hartford was in town with a 3-11 record in conference play, a game behind Maine. Not a battle of the titans to be sure. It was senior night, so both of Maine's seniors were honoured before the game. One of them is Till Gloger (#25 below) from Germany, so the German national anthem was sung before the game, a nice touch.

The first half was quite entertaining, with few fouls called and good pace. Maine took a 13-6 lead only to allow Hartford on a 14-2 run capped by a three pointer from Pancake Thomas (#5 below), whose real name is Cleveland. Maine recovered and ended the half on a 26-12 run to take a 41-34 lead into the locker room.

That lead disappeared quickly in the second half, and when Thomas sank another three, Hartford had a 53-51 lead with ten minutes to go. Until this point, only 22 fouls had been called, and I was looking forward to a furious finish. Unfortunately, the refs decided at this point to call everything, ruining the game. The last ten minutes saw 19 fouls whistled, killing any flow. The game was tied at 59 with seven minutes left but by then, both teams were in the bonus and the rest of the game was a battle of free throw shooting. Maine fouled far too often and Hartford sank 14 in a row while Maine went 2/5 from the line, missing a couple of 1-and-1 openers as the Hawks opened a 75-63 lead with 2:43 left.

The rest of the game was garbage time as the Hawks won 82-74 in a game that was destroyed by those zealous zebras. There were "only" 41 total fouls, but remember that 22 were called over the first 30 minutes and 19 over the last 10. The players did not change their style, the refs did. Mid-major hoops may be fun, but the officiating is absolutely atrocious. Thankfully I only have one game left to see this season.


At halftime, a student had to sink a free throw, three pointer, and half-court shot for a $500 pizza party. Amazingly he did it, draining his second shot from center court to earn him many, many friends. At Indiana the next day, a student did the same thing to win $25,000. The difference between the power conferences and mid-majors is not limited to the games; even the promotions are significantly better in the big schools.

I took a bus from Boston to Portland which turned out to be a good decision. If you book on the  Megabus website early enough, you can get a one-way ticket for $1 plus fees. My return ticket to Portland cost $3.50, but the bus is actually operated by Concord Coach Lines, which is a lot nicer and more comfortable than Megabus. To get to Bangor, I rented a car in Portland. At the counter, the clerk said there was a Nissan Quest available. I know very little about car models these days, so he further informed me that it is a small SUV. Good enough, I thought. Turns out that it is neither, instead it is a huge mini-van (below). I took it anyway as I'd never driven something like this and it was OK for the short trip to Bangor and back, but nothing longer as the gas mileage was awful.

Two weeks ago, I saw San Diego State play. That's 3,207 miles away from Bangor, but those are not the two schools that are the farthest apart in the contiguous USA. That honour goes to Seattle and Miami, which are 3,306 miles from each other.



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