UConn (80) vs. Tulane (76) 03/08/2020

Game #97 of 353 27% complete

I was not in the mood to write this. I could say that the elimination of March Madness and other sports events is a necessary precaution in the best interests of the public. I could say that the health of our citizens takes precedence over basketball games and golf tournaments. That is all true. But for my fellow college basketball and golf fans, it is a dark hole in our lives. Prayers to those afflicted with the virus and to our healthcare workers who are on the front line.

A pre-game walk through the campus on a beautiful day set the mood for the game.

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The ride to Tulane took us to the outskirts of New Orleans away from the crazy folks down on Bourbon St. A lunch at the High Hat Café was too die for. The BBQ shrimp in a beer sauce was New Orleans food at its best.

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The arena was small but modern. We got there early and were able to get close to the court watching the UConn players warm up. I never get this opportunity at other UConn games to get that close to the court!  Little did I know that this would be the last time to see UConn play this season. I was hopeful at a minimum for an NIT berth and possible trip to Madison Square Garden.

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I was happy to see many other UConn fans sitting in our section. Since this was Tulane’s last home game, the seniors were celebrated before the game. The last senior introduced was Christion Thompson. As the pictures were taken with Christion and his family, Dan Hurley the UConn coach joins the group and congratulates everyone. He even had his picture taken with the group. I thought this was a little strange and filed it under the “to be researched later” category. As it turns out, Hurley had recruited Thompson at Rhode Island and coached him for two years before Thompson transferred to Tulane. A nice gesture on Coach Hurley’s part!

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Tulane dominated the first half with Thompson’s unstoppable drives to the basket. UConn was down by 8 at the half but fought back to a 4-point victory led by Christian Vital. I argue that Vital was the best player in the AAC this year but he was beat out by Precious Anchiuwa of Memphis. Little did I know at the time how meaningless the game would end up being in light of the canceled NCAA tournaments.

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If you are a dog lover and plan on visiting New Orleans, please stop by the Villalobos Rescue Center featured on the Pit Bull and Parolees TV show to volunteer to walk dogs. Just show up and have some fun. There are set times noted on the web site but you can go on any day of the week. https://vrcpitbull.com/how-you-can-help/in-person/

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I would also suggest a ride on the Natchez Steamboat for a leisurely cruise up the Mississippi River. A self-guided tour of the engine room was interesting because the engine was taken off another steamboat in the early 1900’s. You can see the pistons going back and forth powered by hydraulics and diesel fuel. The paddle wheel turning on the back of the boat actually powers the boat.

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That completes season 6 of Operation 351. Hope to see you all next season!

 

Georgia (64) vs. LSU (94) 03/07/2020

Game #96 of 353 27% complete

This five-day trip to the Big Easy included my friends Chelsea and Tony along with my wife Linda. The trip to LSU was about an hour out from New Orleans to the PMAC Arena. Pete Maravich was my idol growing up with his magic playmaking and floppy socks. It was a thrill to see memories of him interspersed throughout the arena. I have never been to a big-time college football game but I was in awe of the LSU football stadium across the street from the basketball arena. The climb to the last row would surely challenge the best conditioned fan.

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Near the arena, there was a zoo exhibit holding the LSU mascot tiger named “Mike the Tiger”. They had information about tigers in general on the outside of the cage. The $3 million habitat was created in 2005 and looks like a luxury suite for a tiger. The habitat ranks among the largest and finest Tiger preserves in the country. Mike was sitting there being very photogenic. This tiger is the seventh tiger in succession since the Mike 1 first appeared in 1936.

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As a big country music fan, I loved the standard pre game highlight video with Garth Brooks singing “Calling Baton Rouge”.  Scenes from the city with player highlights made for an entertaining show. It was a welcome alternative to the loud rap music playing to the background of dunks by the home team. However, I was impressed with the two towers of flames during the player introductions.

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Looking at the Georgia sideline, I saw an old familiar face stalking in front of the Georgia bench. Tom Crean is the coach of the Georgia Bulldogs. Love him or hate him, he does make an entertaining scene prowling the sidelines and projecting an over exuberance of distress against the referees. He has had success at Marquette and Indiana but he will have his hands full at Georgia playing second fiddle to the football team.

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LSU basketball is doing very well this year and is currently ranked a ninth seed in Lunardi’s projections. They easily handled Georgia today and will do a great job representing the SEC in March Madness.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without taking a swamp ride through the bayou. The alligators were out in full force munching on marshmallows thrown by our homegrown boat operator. It was a blast when the air propelled boat was going full speed through the swamp riding corners at a tilt.

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Next Game : UConn at Tulane 03/08/2020

Colgate (80) vs. Loyola MD (84) 02/16/2020

Game #95 of 353 26% complete

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The campus of Loyola features many Gothic buildings located in a residential neighborhood of northern Baltimore. The basketball arena is situated in a huge athletic center. You need to walk through an inviting food court before proceeding upstairs to the arena. I was very impressed by the four digital scoreboards situated around the four corners of the court. I was confused by the senior graduating ceremony for the players and cheerleaders because there are two remaining home games left. Nevertheless, it is always a heartwarming sight to see the parents and family escort the seniors through the lined up players and cheerleaders to receive an award.

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A banner above listed years that Loyola MD were the champions of the Mason Dixon Conference. My curiosity was peeked to say the least. From WIKI, the league is a defunct NCAA Division 2 athletics conference, formed in 1936 and disbanded in 1974. Its members were predominantly from states bordering the Mason Dixon line. Other notable schools over the years included American University, University of Delaware, John Hopkins University, Mount St. Mary’s and UMBC. I guess that being a champion of any conference is worth celebrating but I could go 50/50 on the merits of raising this banner.

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The favored first place Colgate Raiders were upset by the home team Greyhounds despite the Raiders winning earlier in the year by 22 points. I was very impressed with the Greyhound freshman center Santi Aldama who hit three jumpers from the three point line and played strong in the paint. Aldama’s father played for Spain’s 1992 Olympic team. Santi was named the MVP of U-18 European championship in 2019 leading Spain to the gold medal. Aldama was a four-star prospect and rated the No. 61 overall recruit in the 2019 class, according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings. A knee injury at the beginning of the season sidelined him but he is back at full strength. I tried to find the answer to the obvious question: why did he choose Loyola MD?

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I finished the night eating at the Birroteca restaurant bar and watching my Uconn Huskies pull out an exciting win over Memphis with a sad note pulling for Akok Akok to recover from his torn Achilles. I will be back in Baltimore next year to see Morgan State and Towson to complete all the schools in Maryland.

It was long weekend that included a 2 hour stop today at the Baltimore Zoo. The lion sleeps tonight and so will I!

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Next game: LSU at Georgia 03/07/2020

Boston University (77) vs. Navy (54) 02/16/2020

Game #94 out of 353   26% complete

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The 6 hour train ride from Connecticut went fast as I caught up on reading and surveying the urban blight of America from my window. With help from my wife dropping me off at a nearby train station,  I saved myself from the usual airport hassles. Yes it takes many more hours to get there but a late day afternoon game (4PM) and an early train makes it possible to take Operation 351 on a more leisurely pace. Adding in a shuttle from the train station to the airport and another shuttle from the airport to the car rental facility takes the idea of leisure to a new level.

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My fellow basketball traveler Greg provided me with a guide to visiting the Navy campus. The guide stated that you need to park in the football stadium for a $5 fee and present your driver’s license as proof of identity. As I approached the stadium parking lot, there was not attendant in the booth so I went ahead and parked. I boarded a school bus for a 5 minute trip to Alumni Hall. I looked around again for some authoritarian person to present my license to but none were in sight. I entered Alumni Hall wondering if I breached security at the hallowed training grounds for the Navy. After the game, I thought of walking the grounds to take pictures of the impressive buildings but I feared that I had already pushed my luck.

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The ride to Alumni hall was entertaining seeing various fighter jets placed throughout the grounds. Many of the buildings were off limits guarded with metal gates and concrete barriers. As I walked into the arena, I witnessed a presentation by two naval cadets addressing about 30 young kids sitting on stairs answering questions. One kid asked if you can have another job besides being in the Navy. The cadet earnestly answered that the dedication required to be in the Navy is all consuming and that a naval cadet would just not have time for two jobs. I almost hung around to hear the other questions. I am sure there were some funny ones.

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Knowing that football is king at Navy and basketball is the ugly step sister, I was very impressed with Alumni Hall. The modern facility was half full but had padded seats and great sight lines to the court. I was surprised with the lack of cheerleaders and naval cadets.  I pictured a large contingent of cadets cheering like they do in the Army/ Navy football game. My interest peaked when I heard that T shirts would be tossed to the crowd after every three pointer. My hopes were dashed because I saw a three year old in the aisle next to me playing with his toy truck. How can I grab a t shirt headed for this kid and not give it to him? Fortunately, no T shirt ever came close to me.

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Boston University completely dominated Navy throughout the entire game. I was amazed to see that Navy had defeated the Terriers in OT back in January. Currently in second place behind Colgate, the Terriers were impressive with Connecticut natives Walter Whyte and Jonas Harper along with Max Maloney keeping the Midshipmen a comfortable distance apart in the score.

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I had another first at the game. After the game, the crowd was asked to stand for the “Blue and Gold” song. I thought it was just another alma mater song for which I never stand but the entire crowd stood. There were many Navy veterans around me singing the words. The Navy team shouted “Beat Army” at the end of the song . This alma mater has a much deeper meaning for the Navy cadets and veterans.

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Next Game: Colgate at Loyola MD 02/16/2020

 

Wake Forest (73) vs. Syracuse (75) 02/08/2020

Game #93 of 351 26% complete

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This game completes all the New York state schools including the schools in the five boroughs. When I get to do 2 games on one day,  that is gold for me. After the completion of the Colgate game around 4PM, I made the hour trek to Syracuse over some dicey roads at times wondering whether AAA will come this far to pull me out of a ditch.

As a UCONN fan, I have watched many battles with the Syracuse at the Cuse Dome. My impression of the dome was a huge building in the country surrounded by open parking lots much like a professional football stadium. I had that impression dead wrong. The stadium is in the heart of Syracuse campus buildings. There was only parking garage space available which I loathe given the amount of time it takes to leave the garage after the game. That being said, it was a breathtaking view when I first walked into the dome. The stands were filled with orange and the court brightly lit against the white dome overhead.

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I had excellent seats courtesy of Stub Hub, sitting in the lower section mid court. I was confused at first because my section 123 was in the grandstand area and not the 123 section used for football and displayed in the hallway. I did a couple of circles trying to figure out why section 123 was not in the vicinity of the court ’til I broke down and asked an usher.

I try to root for the home team on my journey but as any UCONN fan can attest, it was not possible to root for the Cuse. I showed considerable restraint when Wake Forest made a valiant comeback to almost win the game. I had a fleeting thought of yelling “GO UConn” during a quiet moment during a Cuse foul shot but my rational brain took over and shut that thought down.

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During the time when Syracuse was shooting fouls shots, Coach Boeheim would pull his players from the foul line area and have them stay at the other end of the court thus preventing any Cuse rebounds off of a missed foul shot. I heard a couple of Cuse fans asking the same question.

I was very impressed with the coach’s son Buddy Boeheim. He had 23 points and has a smooth shooting stroke. This 6’6’’sophomore is going to give Dad some good years for the Orangeman. Freshman Brycan Goodine scored the winning basket with 1.5 seconds left for his only 2 points of the night.

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When Syracuse hits the 70 mark in scoring, your stub can be turned in for a free taco. As I was walking out, I saw an older gentleman scouring the aisles for dropped ticket stubs. I was thinking how many tacos could one person eat. Then I overheard him telling his buddy that he hands out the stubs to his clients at the homeless shelter. We need more folks like this!

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As I was leaving the dome opening the door to the outside, I was hit with a gust of wind thinking that there was a storm outside. I then realized that this gust has something to do with air pressure in the dome. The dome is a very impressive architectural wonder that should make the Cuse fans proud.

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Good bye New York!

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Next game: Boston U at Navy 02/15/2020

Navy (60) vs. Colgate (67) 02/08/2020

Game #92 of 353 26% complete

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The drive from Connecticut to the sleepy little hamlet of Hamilton, New York took about 4 hours which is my upper limit for driving. I was fortunate to miss a big snowstorm the night before that dumped a foot of snow in the area. Over the years, I have developed a few rules of the road which I will share off and on in future posts. My first rule states that if at all possible, find a local restaurant to eat. Do not go to a franchise chain! Although the food is sometimes hit and miss, overhearing conversation through parts of this country gives you different perspectives on people’s lives. I often use Trip Advisors to find the good places. If the restaurant has a name in it like Tony’s or is family owned, all the better!

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I saw something very moving during the national anthem at the game. Three cheerleaders stood out in front of the line and signed the anthem for the hard of hearing folks in the crowd. This was a first for me which I think more schools should do.

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The winterly scenes was very picturesque but some of the unplowed roads made for some nervous driving. There was not much room for parking but I found a spot across the street. When I left the game, I was blocked in by somebody visiting their daughter. The mother held a cute Yorkie in her arms and apologized profusely. What could I say?

Colgate is in first place of the Patriot League. With an NCAA appearance last year in March Madness, they seem posed to make another run. The Raiders lost a heart-breaking game to Tennessee last year. They have very talented and experienced team with height and quickness. Navy put a valiant fight but was just did not have the chops to keep up. Rapolas Ivanauskas a 6’ 10” junior forward put on a show for Colgate at the end dominating the glass on both ends of the floor.

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Cotterell Court is an old-style arena built in a barracks fashion. The ceiling is curved supported by steel arches. Built in 1959, it shares a building with the hockey rink just like Merrimack does as noted in my last blog. Unfortunately, I sat near a fan who complained loudly about each call against the Raiders. For about 99% of the time, he was wrong in his assessment but I loved his enthusiasm.

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I have a big shout out to Brigid St. Leger who is the Assistant Athletics Director for Marketing and Fan Engagement. She put me in touch with Robert Cornell after the game. Robert was the Colgate Sports Information Director for 33 years and shared some stories about Colgate basketball. Adonal Foyle put Colgate on the basketball map back in the nineties. Foyle was born in Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. At the age of 15, Foyle was adopted by Joan and Jay Mandle, professors at Colgate. His illustrious career at Colgate resulted in Foyle being the 8th pick of the 1997 first round NBA draft. Robert told the story how reporters and photographers would make him stand in the New York snow to contrast his birth in a hot Caribbean country. Foyle absolutely hated doing this. Robert also credits the Colgate coach Matt Langel with rejuvenating the basketball program which was primarily a hockey school. Thanks, Brigid, for your hospitality!

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Next game: Wake Forest at Syracuse 02/08/2020  (later that night)

Long Island (59) vs. Merrimack (70) 02/01/2020

Game #91 of 353              25% complete

2020-02-01 15.39.592020-02-01 15.57.592020-02-01 15.58.03One of the few disconcerting parts of this journey is the moving target towards the final goal. It is especially disheartening when you have an accomplishment that goes awry because a school decides to go to Division 1. I had all the New England states complete till Merrimack made the move to Division 1 this year. The hole in my accomplishment ego was too much to bear so I made the trip to Andover, Massachusetts to re-accomplish my goal. My rule of adding new Division 1 schools to my list over the course of my journey includes schools moving up the ladder to D1. Conversely, I will not be visiting Savannah State since they dropped to D2. So an interesting scenario comes to mind. What if I visit a school then they drop out of D1? Do I pull it out of the blog or sequester it to a separate part of the blog with a special notation? I will cross that bridge when I have to.

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The away opponent Long Island University also brought up a special situation. I had visited LIU Brooklyn in February of 2017. Since then, the LIU Post campus (a D2 school) merged with LIU Brooklyn (the D1 school). Do I consider this a new school requiring a new visit? Since my mission states that my mission is to visit every D1 campus to see a game (except when there is no campus arena like Georgetown), I have satisfied this requirement with LIU. This rule holds true even if a new arena is built on campus. I do not go back to visit new arena where I have previously visited. My journey, my rules!

2020-02-01 16.06.002020-02-01 16.06.20I went in the worn entrance to Merrimack athletic center and had to walk through the hockey rink to get to the basketball arena. The Merrimack hockey program has been a national power for years. Quinnipiac and Merrimack are the only two schools I have visited that have a building sharing a hockey rink and basketball courts as separate facilities under one roof. On a side note, the new UCONN hockey arena holding an insufficient seating capacity of 2500 seats should be ditched and a new building holding a basketball and hockey arena would make more sense. Sorry for the digression but perhaps some UCONN official is reading this.

2020-02-01 17.02.432020-02-01 17.03.03I am sure that there are financial shortcuts needed when first transitioning from a D2 school to a D1 school. That was evident watching the audio/visual set on display during the warmups. When the Merrimack starting line up was introduced, the lights went out and the recorded music started blaring. There was a person in the corner of the court with a small single spotlight attempting to make circles with it as he pointed the light towards the starting players as they were introduced.  You would catch a face here and there as each player was introduced. After seeing some pretty cool laser and light shows throughout the journey, Merrimack should look to upgrade its warm up show.

2020-02-01 17.05.20Congratulations to Merrimack in their first year of D1 basketball! They are currently in first place in the NEC league with an 8-1 record including an impressive road at Northwestern. I was impressed with their stifling zone defense that gave LIU fits all afternoon long. The place was filled with loud fans with many waiting at the door to come in during the time outs. Head coach Joe Gallo ( yeah I thought of My Cousin Vinny too) is in his fourth year with an impressive 75-42 record.

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Next game: Navy at Colgate 02/15/2020

 

Rhode Island (79) vs. George Mason (64) 01/28/2020

Game #90 of 353    25% complete

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The star of this game was the George Mason band. I saw violins, a lighted drum set and a ton of instruments accompanied by singers belting out tunes. The band director was entertaining to watch directing the band with hilarious gyrations. This was the best band that I had ever seen at a college game. I even hung around at the end of the game to hear their final tunes.  They had one kid stomping on the bleachers with both legs when the Rhode Island player was shooting a foul shot. Unique at first, annoying in the end!

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I had a pre-game burger at Brion’s across the street from the Eagle Bank Arena. I sat near four guys at the bar who complained endlessly about their George Mason team. As a member of the UConn Boneyard message board, I realize that bitching about your team is a universal language that always occurs regardless how well your team is playing. I was tempted to interject with an introduction about my mission but they were very worked up so I left it alone. I was also not up to ribbing about the 2006 UConn heartbreaking loss to the Patriots who eventually went on to the Final Four.

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The pennants in the arena brought back the bad taste in my mouth of UConn’s upset by George Mason in 2006. Some knowledgeable fans consider the 2006 UCONN team the most talented ever in Husky history.

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At the end of the first half, a George Mason staff women came up to our section offering a free seat upgrade. I am thinking like what is the catch here. There was none so I moved down to four rows from the court behind the Rhode Island bench. Kudos to George Mason for offering this. More schools at the risk of pissing off the season tickets holders in the good seats should be doing this. That being said, the huge Eagle Bank Arena was very empty with certain sections covered up. It appears that the Patriots fans following has not kept up with the capacity of the arena.

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I was very impressed with this Rhode Island team. At 15 wins and 5 losses, they are off to a fine season with a well-balanced team that can shoot the ball and play tough defense. The team also drew a large fan contingent on the road. They have not lost a beat since Dan Hurley left the club two years ago. George Mason had no chance in this game falling behind early and never catching up.

Two Rhode Island players caught my eye. There was Fatts Russell who at 5’10” 165 pounds belies his name but was too quick for the George Mason guards. There was Atwan Walker who name sounds like Antoine Walker the Kentucky collegian who had a successful career in the NBA. Was Antwan possibly the son of Antoine?  Nope.

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Next Game: Long Island at Merrimack 02/01/20

Morgan State (56) vs. Maryland Eastern Shore (50) 01/27/2020

2020-01-27 19.49.07The trip from D.C. to Maryland Eastern Shore took almost 3 hours. MES is one of those outlier schools that makes it difficult to do a multiple game trip.  I did pair MES with George Mason which was the best I could do.  I did look into doing MES with one of the Virginia schools but the schedule was not promising.

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I am very OCD when it comes to accomplishments on my journey. Back to the old days of Sport Passport, you were given virtual badges for completing all the schools in the state or a given league. I eagerly aim for my own badges now so my goal of completing Maryland will be reached next year. I plan to do Loyola MD and Navy this year. Next year, I will finish with Towson and Morgan State. Maryland will be complete satisfying my accomplishment ego. I say all this to justify my endless trip to the bowels of southern Maryland to see MES.

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I usually rent a car with each trip preferring the flexibility and freedom vs. depending on UBER or mass transit. As a car owner who does not like cars, I tend to keep a car for a long time ’til it falls apart. So with each car rental, I come across a “new” car feature that provides some getting used to. The GMC Terrain had the following:

  1. The shifts were buttons on the dash.
  2. The high beams went on and off automatically. When they first went on, I frantically wondered what I did to turn them on and tried in vain to turn them off which they did on their own.
  3. A red light would buzz and flash from the top of the dashboard warning me of something. I believe that it has to do with a warning about a pedestrian crossing but it also occurred going under a light at an intersection. I thought the engine was going to blow when the red light first flashed on.

The game was back and forth till Morgan State pulled it out on the end. The run and gun offense from both sides made this an exciting game to watch with ESPN highlight dunks and blocks galore. Poor MES fell to 2-19 for the season.

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Morgan State had the player’s names on the back of their uniform. This was a first for me to the point where I had always thought that the NCAA had banned names altogether. I am guessing coaches usually frown on this because they want a player to identify with a team not with himself.

The Hytche Athletic Center is one of those multi use facilities where the basketball court is plopped in the middle.  The place was huge with racquetball courts on one side and a museum and a fan store on the other side. I was thinking what a tremendous waste of energy it must take to keep this place warm.

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Next Game: Rhode Island at George Mason 01/28/2020

Bryant (76) vs. Mount Saint Mary (79) 01/25/2020

Game #88 out of 353      24% complete

My nephew Eric is enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s seminary. My wife and I combined a visit to him with a basketball game.  After a one-hour ride from Dulles, we were given a tour by Eric of the impressive grounds. The seminary was originally constructed in 1808 and is home to the seminarians for housing and classrooms.

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There is a very cool story about the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes which is tucked up on a hill behind the school. As you can see below, the statue of Mary makes an impressive sight. Many Catholics from around the world make the pilgrimage to the grotto. It is not uncommon to see visitors fill 5-gallon jugs from the spring water available to the public. For years, floodlights had lit the campanile (statue of Mary) until the Grotto staff decided to save some money by turning them off. Soon after, a government agent contacted Mt. St. Mary University requesting that the lights go back on. Pilots flying into nearby Camp David needed the illuminated campanile to guide them. I always thought Camp David was nearer D.C. but it is very close to the  Emmitsburg, MD campus.

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I saw this pennant in the arena. I do believe a disclaimer should be put on the banner stating that this is Division 2 basketball.

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I have a pet peeve about scoreboards. I believe that they should always show the current point total of the players in the game. There was a Bryant player Juan Cardenas averaging 4 points a game who was lighting it up. He ended up with 20 points but I had no clue how well he was doing.

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Kudos to the home crowd of the Mountaineers! They were loud and into the game the whole way. The game went down to the last minute with the Mountaineers pulling it out.

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We had breakfast before heading out at Bollinger’s in nearby Thurmont, MD. I purposely go for these old family restaurants over the chain places. I had an excellent bacon & egg sandwich. My wife loved her eggs, bacon and home fries. Our friendly waitress made for an enjoyable experience . We sat near a fire which reflected out the window into the windshield of our car. I did a double take thinking our car was on fire.

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I leave you with a beautiful sunrise from the Mount Saint Mary campus.

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Next Game: Morgan State at Maryland Eastern Shore 01/27/2020