Monday, February 28, 2022

Columbia Lions 74 at Brown Bears 81 (NCAA Basketball, Ivy League) - February 26, 2022

After leaving Holy Cross, I drove 50 minutes to Brown University for the second stop of my hoops doubleheader. The GPS dutifully led me to the parking lot that is part of the Brown athletics complex, but it was full, as there was a lacrosse doubleheader going on at the time. No worries, as there is plenty of street parking around and I found a spot on Lloyd Avenue right across from Meehan Auditorium, where Brown hockey plays.

However, I was here for basketball, which meant my destination was the Pizzitola Sports Center, affectionately known as "The Pitz" by the kids. Before entering, I walked over to the other side of Ittleson Quad to see Indomitable, the 10-foot high sculpture of a Kodiak bear, with the Pitz in the background. I don't have time to explain why an Alaskan mammal is the mascot of an Ivy League school in Rhode Island; if you are interested, the university's communications department has you covered.

For such a large structure, the main entrance is rather understated, with just four doors. The facility was opened in 1989 to replace Marvel Gymnasium, and it also hosts volleyball, gymnastics, wrestling, and squash. The box office is in the lobby between the doors and the cheapest ticket is $12. 

Brown is a very old university and has an extensive history in athletics. You might not notice this on the first floor concourse, though there is a small Hall of Fame (above) as well as several photos of the various programs. Basketball's highlight was a win over Providence in 2012.

At one end of the concourse is an elevator and next to that is a set of stairs. Take either to get to the second floor, which is where the treasure trove of sports artifacts can be found. There are plenty of display cases just in the hallway here, including some really old footballs...

...and a basketball that might be from before World War II, but it looks a lot newer.

The center court circle from Marvel Gymnasium is also on display at one end. The Brown Coat of Arms is the artwork; of course these days, it would be a sports logo.

There is also the Joukowsky Room, which has even more memorabilia inside. It was being used for a private event before the game, but afterwards, it was completely empty and I took my time reading about the detailed history of Brown athletics. 

There is a lot to see in this room alone, but I will only include a couple of photos. The one above shows a panel that describes the origins of many of the sports and traditions, while below you can see a national championship trophy in crew (also known as rowing), as well as some helmets commemorating the ultimate success in pro football for three Brown players. If you do get a chance to visit, make sure to check out the second floor at Pizzitola if you are a sports history nerd. 

Back downstairs, there are two entrances to the gym proper, one at either end of the floor. Roster sheets are available just next to the doors as you walk in. Capacity here is 2,800, with box seats on the near side and benches everywhere else. There are no videoboards, just some traditional scoreboards at either end. One of them does show player stats, so don't sit underneath that if you want to follow the game in more detail.

The balcony seats are $30 for some reason. It seemed like most of them were being used by those who were part of the private event and you can see the windows of the Joukowsky Room behind the seats.

The box seats below got quite crowded by game time and I ended up sitting on the benches on the other side. Even those got busy as several lacrosse fans arrived just after tip, bringing attendance up to 715. 

The picture above was taken from the balcony. The Ivy League banners across the way are unique in that they show the Coat of Arms of all eight schools. Note the Brown logo on the floor is not of a bear, but a B adorned with ivy. The band sits at one end and they were a lively bunch. There was a group of cheerleaders too, wearing red and black uniforms, because, let's be honest, brown is not a very flattering colour when used on skin-tight clothing.

Brown went 47 years between tournament appearances, so they should be due for their next one in 2033. They have but one postseason win, that coming in the 2019 CBI when they beat UAB in the first round. 

Overall, Pizzitola Sports Center is a place where you really need to spend time to see everything that is available. The gym itself is as simple as they come, and if you leave without heading upstairs, you will have missed one of the best collections of sports archives at any venue.

The Game

The last-place Columbia Lions were in town with a 1-11 conference mark, while Brown was 4-8 but still had an outside shot to get that final spot in the Ivy League tournament. The Bears had thumped the Lions by 19 when they met in Manhattan back in January. It was senior night and Brown honoured four of theirs, including Jaylan Gainey, whose 53 blocks led the Ivy League.

Brown won the tip and started with a great play that saw Gainey land a flying dunk (below) and shortly thereafter the fouls started. Lions coach Jim Engles was so impressed that he wanted a foul too, and got a technical for arguing. Despite this, Columbia managed to get a 6-point lead late, only for Brown's Kino Lilly Jr. to drain a couple of treys and the teams went to the break tied at 39.

The Bears started the second stanza on a 14-4 run but the Lions soon matched them with a 13-3 surge that knotted things at 56 with half the half to go. Perry Cowan sank a three for Brown and amazingly, they never trailed after that. With 2:35 to go, another three by Lilly gave Brown an 8-point advantage. The Bears then fouled on three straight possessions, leading to five Lion points from the charity stripe and a 76-73 score at the 1:51 mark. Then the reverse happened, with the Lions fouling thrice (while missing five shots) leading to five easy points for Brown and the eight-point edge was back, but with only 31 seconds to go. Game over in other words. A Gainey grab with six seconds left allowed him to foul out and leave the floor for the last time to applause as Brown won 81-74.

There's the final below with the player stats. Another long game with 42 fouls, but it did have six lead changes and ten ties. Brown shot 50% and grabbed 14 of 30 offensive boards, compared to Columbia's 36% and 18 of 45. The difference in second-chance points (17-10) matched the margin on the scoreboard.

Gainey was a perfect 9-9 from the floor and finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 8 blocks. A truly dominant game.


This was the 118th venue on my list of 388 NCAA Division I basketball gyms to visit. But with Lindenwood, Southern Indiana and Texas A&M-Commerce all joining Division I, the quest will rise to 391 next year (even though Hartford is dropping down to Division III, since I have already seen them, they remain on the list). 

A tripleheader was possible with Providence home at 8:30 but tickets were over $200 on the secondary market. The Friars clinched their first regular-season Big East title with the win, so I guess it was worth it if you are a fan.

In a recent post, I mentioned a mnemonic device for recalling all of the A-10 members. With only eight schools in the Ivy, it isn't that hard, especially when the last four are HaPPY. The first four are BCCD, so British Columbia Corn Darts are HaPPY works. Hey, mnemonic devices don't have to make sense!

Next Up

The college hoops season is ending and although I will check out some local tournament games, I don't expect to get to any campus venues. With no new baseball stadiums to see (not that MLB is playing anyway), it will be a quiet summer as well. But I am sure I will find new venues to visit, so check back on occasion to see what might transpire.



Sunday, February 27, 2022

Army Black Knights 66 at Holy Cross Crusaders 58 (NCAA Basketball, Patriot League) - February 26, 2022

When I first planned this weekend trip, I expected to stay in the Providence area for three games. After the Lady Friars on Friday night, Bryant was scheduled to play at 1:00 Saturday, with Brown at 6:00. But when it became clear that the Bryant game against Wagner would be for the Northeast Conference regular season title, it was moved to 4:00 (presumably for those crucial NEC TV ratings), making a true doubleheader impossible. Frustrated, I cancelled my Amtrak ticket and looked for games elsewhere. I soon discovered that Holy Cross had a home game at 2:00 and was less than an hour from Providence, fitting in well with the Brown battle. Oops, shouldn't have cancelled that train ticket. I set about rebooking when I realized that you could fly to Providence from New York for about the same price. Hmm, I had never flown to Rhode Island, so why not? The trip was back on.

On Saturday morning, I rented a car and drove to Worcester, home of the College of the Holy Cross. Arriving from the south, you really don't see the city, instead circling up some residential streets to reach the campus. The basketball team plays out of the Hart Center at the Luth Athletic Complex and there is a large parking lot right in front of the facility. Just to the left of the main entrance is a statue of Bob Cousy, who played here from 1946-50 and helped the team win the 1947 title. There is a much newer statue of Cousy in front of the DCU Center downtown that I saw when I visited the Woo Sox last summer.

The Hart Center was opened in 1975 and is named Rev. Francis J. Hart, who was the Moderator of Intramurals at Holy Cross for more than 40 years. The Luths donated $32.5 million towards an extensive renovation to the complex in 2015 and hence have their name attached as well. There is an old-style plaque in tribute to Hart (below) and a more modern panel honouring the Luths. The Holy Cross hockey team plays in a rink that is part of the same building.

Tickets are $15 for reserved seating, though it seemed like few actually bothered to look at their ticket. With a capacity of 3,536 and less than half that showing up, you can pretty much sit where you want and most fans did that. Vaccine credentials were checked, one of the last times that will happen. The Holy Cross website even said that you could not wear a cloth mask, but that was not being enforced.

Before entering the gym, have a look at the Crusader Hall of Fame, down the long hallway. I did not see any familiar names as I perused the board. Across from the Hall is the concession stand, which does sell cans of beer, so pick up a wristband at the ID check table if you plan to imbibe. 

Inside, purple dominates, with all seats and benches in that princely colour. The outline of Massachusetts is seen on the court, a smaller version than at UMass. You will notice that there are a few rows of box seats above the benches; these are actually in different sections and start again in Row A, as you can see below. The bench sections are lettered while those small sections with the chairbacks are numbered. 

There are student sections at either end of the court, but the pep band was nowhere to be found on this day. A small group of cheerleaders did their best to keep fans entertained during the timeouts, and there was a host who conducted a few promotions as well. Having attended so many games, I tune out at every break now. There are two smaller videoboards at the far end and a larger one at the near end. At each corner is a traditional scoreboard as well as a ribbon board that shows team stats during the game. A walkway up top encircles the entire venue and allows you to take pictures from various angles.  

You will notice two surprising banners, at least if you are not well versed in the college's sports history. As mentioned, the Crusaders were the 1947 champs, but they also won the NIT in 1954. In fact, Holy Cross used to be an athletics powerhouse before they decided to focus on academics; it is one of eight schools to have won titles in both baseball and basketball, claiming the 1952 College World Series as well. Times have changed. 

There are your typical banners showing NCAA tournament appearances, their last was in 2016 when they won their First Four game over Southern.

There are also six retired jerseys, three on each side of one end wall. Tom Heinsohn also played here before joining Cousy with the Celtics. In fact all six of the players whose jerseys have been retired were either drafted by or played for Boston, back in the day when there were territorial picks. 

Looking back at the main entrance, you get a good overview of the entire court and seating area. Between the two scoreboards on the far wall is a private party room that was quite busy throughout the game.

Overall, Hart Center is a good example of how to create a signature mid-major venue. The colour scheme is unusual, there is history and recognition of other accomplishments, and it is easy to access and affordable. Holy Cross may no longer be at the forefront of college sports in the region but that doesn't mean it is not worth a visit. The DCU Center hosts an ECHL team, so if you are heading there for that, check out if the Crusaders have a hoops or hockey game and enjoy a winter Worcester sports road trip.

The Game

Army was visiting with an 8-9 record in Patriot League play, a game better than the Crusaders, who had won the reverse match three weeks prior 69-65. This would be the last game before the conference tournament, so seeding was at stake.

Fouls were the order of the day, with 19 coming in the first half alone. In between all the whistles, the teams exchanged the lead a few times, but Army ended the half on an 8-2 run to take a 27-21 lead to the locker room.

The second half was sadly similar to the first, with foul after foul being called. A few were of the ticky-tack variety, but most were deserved. Army built a 13-point lead but Judson Martindale scored five quick points for the Crusaders and after a Black Knight bucket, Gerrale Gates (shooting above) scored six straight free throws to bring Holy Cross within 51-47 as the two-minute mark approached.

Then Army's Jalen Rucker (at the line above) scored five points while the Crusaders missed three consecutive shots and it was a nine-point lead with a minute to go. Which meant more fouls. The next 40 seconds of game time was typical of the sport these days: foul, FT, FT; foul, FT, FT; foul, FT, FT; 3; foul, FT, FT; 3; foul, FT, FT; 3. Those Holy Cross threes kept it close, but they ran out of time as Army held on 66-58 in a game that took well over two hours.

Not a fun game to watch. Holy Cross shot a brutal 27.7% overall and that is why they lost. Gates managed a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds while Rucker led all scorers with 24. Holy Cross finished the season seeded 7th and promptly lost to American, while Army finished 5th and received a bye to the second round of the conference tournament.


After the game, I wandered upstairs and saw the below plaque, honouring Grace Rett, who set a world record after rowing on an ERG machine for 62 hours and 3 seconds (she had a 10-minute break every hour). What I did not realize at the time is that less than a month after achieving this, Rett was killed in a car accident while on a training trip with the rowing team, a day after she turned 20. Rett was in the passenger seat in a van when the driver, who was the team's coach, turned left into oncoming traffic. The story is unbelievably tragic, but serves as a reminder of how quickly lives can change on the road. As someone who spends a lot of time behind the wheel, I am amazed at how there are so many inattentive drivers here in the States. Nearly 1% of Americans will be killed in traffic accidents, and the US suffers about 50% more road crash deaths than similar countries such as Canada, Japan, and those in Western Europe. So keep your eyes on the road!

There is one small piece of uplifting news from this tragedy: a year after her death, Rett's elementary school opened a gymnasium named in her honour. 



Saturday, February 26, 2022

Marquette Golden Eagles 57 at Providence Friars 51 (NCAA Women's Basketball, Big East) - February 25, 2022

Back in 2015 I visited Providence for a tripleheader that included seeing the Providence men's basketball team at Dunkin' Donuts Center and their lacrosse team at Ray Treacy Track on campus. At the time, I was unaware that the women played hoops on campus too. Only after I started on my idiotic quest to see every Division I home gym did I learn that the Lady Friars play out of Alumni Hall, right next to the track (which is no longer used for lacrosse). So when I saw that they had a Friday night game the night before two other Providence area schools had a basketball doubleheader on Saturday, I decided to make a weekend trip of it. Although that Providence DH did not transpire (more on that in the next post), I did not cancel the trip and flew 25 minutes from LGA to PVD late Friday. My buddy Andrew picked me up at the airport and drove me to the Providence campus. 

At first, I thought the above building was Alumni Hall, but it is in fact Slavin Center, the college's student union building. This is a good place to start, however, as there is a large cafeteria and a student bar downstairs, and an interactive mural by Peter Tigler than includes a bit of basketball. 

There is also a sports venue at which I will never see an event. That's an e-sports lounge below in case you were wondering, and there are schools that offer scholarships. More power to those who can get an education while playing video games, but this is not something that I would ever be interested in watching. 

Anyway, you can enter Alumni Hall straight from the Slavin Center, or go outside and around the back if you want to see the exterior, which isn't much from this side. The door in the photo below was locked and you had to walk along a deck to get to a door that opened.

From there you enter a long hallway that leads you to the gym proper. Alumni Hall was opened in 1955 and hosted the men until 1972, when they moved to the Providence Civic Center. The team won two NIT titles under coach Joe Mullaney and the gym is named after him. The women's program began in 1974 and has played here since.

In the small passage between the entrance and the gym itself is the Athletic Hall of Fame. In fact, it continues down the hallway to the left, but this is where the locker rooms are located and it is blocked off to fans before and after the game. The box office is to the right in the passageway and a general admission seat is $15. The only concession stand is in the hallway and it is a small mom and pop operation with hot dogs and pretzels the only larger items. Use the cafeteria if you are hungry or eat at a nearby establishment such as The Abbey.

Still, I found a few familiar names, such as ESPN's Doris Burke, who started her broadcasting career as an analyst on Lady Friar broadcasts, and Billy Donovan, who coached the Florida Gators to back-to-back titles and is now leading the Bulls. 

Donovan is not the only former Friar to coach a national championship team two decades after graduation; the late John Thompson did so as well. Thompson was part of the 1963 NIT title squad, as was tournament MVP Ray Flynn, who later became the Mayor of Boston. I always like to spend time perusing these arrangements of athletic achievements because there is so much to be discovered, particularly for an old Canadian like myself.

Inside, the gym is a typical setup, with a steep seating area on the left as you enter, and a smaller area with just four rows to the right. There are small sections on either side of the door through which you enter, and a few rows at the far baseline.

The photo below shows the entire gym from a top corner. The upper seats across the way are not open to the public from what I could tell. The black seats go very well with the floor and even match the folding chairs used by the teams.

Looking back at the entrance, you can see the vantage point where the photo above was taken, in the top corner where the Friars logo is. Capacity is listed at 1,854; when the venue first opened this number was 2,620 but a 2012 renovation replaced benches with box seats and consequently reduced the capacity.

Of course, there are banners, with both women's basketball and volleyball recognized at one end. You will also notice a couple of jerseys, including Burke's #11. However, this is not a retired number as Providence's Nariah Scott was wearing it on this night.

The men also have some banners and one of these will be getting updated as they won their first regular season Big East title the following night in a game that was not part of the aforementioned doubleheader. As an aside, tickets for that game were going for over $200 on the secondary market, an absolutely crazy amount for regular season college basketball.

Providence College was founded in 1917 by the Dominican Fathers, who are known as the Black Friars, and that is where the athletic team's nickname comes from. The main mascot is named Friar Dom (below), who has quite an interesting history. There is also Huxley, a Dalmatian sidekick, who lightens thing up a bit. 

Overall, Alumni Hall is an excellent venue and one that should not be skipped by hoops fans visiting the Ocean State. It would be better if the entire Hall of Fame was accessible but other than that, I have no complaints. Providence has many other athletics programs that play on campus, so check their composite schedule to see if you can squeeze in a doubleheader next time you are in town.

The Game

The Marquette Golden Eagles were in town in a late-season Big East battle. The visitors were 11-7 in the conference, a full five games better than Providence. The two had met three weeks prior at Al McGuire Center in Milwaukee with Marquette prevailing 61-59. It was senior night and Mary Baskerville (#10 below) and Alyssa Geary (#32 on the left of the photo with her hair covering her number, a problem not seen that often in men's basketball) were honoured before the game. There was even a t-shirt given out with their likenesses, something I had not seen before at this level.

I sat behind the Marquette bench because there was more space there, and watched as they took a 16-12 lead after the first quarter, with Liza Karlen (#32 below) accounting for nine of the Golden Eagles points. In the second, Marquette suffered through a nearly seven-minute dry spell with Karlen on the bench that allowed Providence to take the lead and only a late layup from Jordan King allowed the Golden Eagles to tie it at 24 at the half. 

The third quarter saw Marquette attempt an incredible 25 shots with most of those coming from offensive rebounds, but their shooting was brutal as they sank only five of them. Still, a couple were from long range and they added four free throws and won the quarter 16-12, the same score as the first.

We were 2.5 minutes into the final frame before the first points were scored, another jumper by King. Again the female Friars fought back and grabbed a 49-47 lead with a layup from Grace Efosa-Aguebor and 3:41 left. But Marquette was just too strong and over the next 2+ minutes, they scored on four straight possessions, while Providence missed a couple of shots and turned it over twice more. That short period of time decided the game as Marquette held on for the 57-51 victory.

Marquette won despite being outshot 39-31%, a testament to their work on the offensive glass, where they grabbed 22 balls for 13 second-chance points. They had 16 more shot attempts, or one every 2.5 minutes. Karlen was the star with 24 points and 10 boards, while Chloe Marotta notched 9 offensive rebounds alone for the Golden Eagles. 


Rhode Island has the most Division I home venues per capita of any state in the nation. With a population of nearly 1.1 million and five gyms (Providence men and women, Brown, Bryant, Rhode Island), there is one arena per 220,000 residents. The District of Columbia has the same number of venues (Georgetown men and women, George Washington, American, Howard) and about 400,000 less people, so they have one gym per 140,000 citizens. The highest is Minnesota, whose 5.7 million inhabitants can only see top-level college hoops in two places: Minnesota and St. Thomas (who just joined Division I last season).