Iona (101) vs. Rider (110) 02/25/18

#65 of 351  18%

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This arena is an oxymoron. It was very new looking but very small with an capacity of 1650 seats. Usually newness in my experience equals large capacity. The design encourages a loud following from the Rider fans. I had first row seats center court and was thrilled to see a high scoring slug fest.

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I was sitting behind the announcer. When he spoke of a Rider score, his voice became inflated and animated. When he announced an Iona event, the voice was muted. I have to see in the future if this a style unique to him or whether all court side announcers do this. I am also curious whether there was a reason they left the “O” out of the BRONCS nickname. The BRONCS ZOO name for the student section is clever.

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Rider with this win captured first place in the regular season standings for the MAAC. They returned just 5 players from last year and eight players gaining their first experience on the court. They are a well balanced team to watch with a nice mixture of shooters and brawn underneath. Give kudos to coach Kevin Baggett for assembling this team of little experience into a first place club. This is one club that I would be afraid to face as a possible 15-16 seed in March.

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I saw that Shadrac Casimir of Iona was on the roster. When he was a freshman, I saw him light it up back in 2015 against Marist. Here what I posted about him:

IONA had this freshman named Schadrac Casimir. For you CT high school basketball buffs, this is the kid who led Trinity Catholic to the state finals two a years ago and prepped at Kent for a year. He has the face of a cherubic angel standing 5’10″” weighing 155 pounds. He stood in the corner and waited for the ball. When he was passed to, he jacked up a three making 9 of 14 attempts. Up to this game, he was averaging 14.9 ppg.

He missed most of one year to an injury so he is now a junior. He is only averaging 9.9 points a game this year. I think the lack of a true point guard for Iona has hurt him or perhaps the injury has slowed him down. He only had 9 points tonight.

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The player of the game was Iona guard Ricky McGill who had 40 points. He had one of those silent games where you don’t notice him scoring but at the end of the game, you look up and wonder how he got all those points.

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My buddy Kevin took this picture of me in my first row seat. Look for the red circle in the picture and the guy with the mustache.

With this game, I have completed all the schools in New Jersey.  My fourth year of Operation is now complete. I hope that all of you have a great summer. God willing, I will be back for season 5 in November. Now off to the first tee!

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Dartmouth (47) vs. Princeton (64) 02/24/18

#64 of 351  18% complete

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I nominate the Jadwin Gymnasium at Princeton as the most interesting arena that I have visited to date. I felt like I was walking into Space Mountain at Disney. The basketball court occupies just one piece of this huge structure. The orange seating in contrast to the whiteness of the lights and ceiling made a cool contrast.

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I learned two interesting rules about Ivy League competition from my fellow college BB traveler Greg. I was flipping thru channels on Friday night before my trip to New Jersey on Saturday. I see Princeton playing at home on ESPNU. This was indeed a LIVE game. I immediately panicked and went to check my ticket for Saturday. I verified that Princeton is playing Saturday night as well.

So I learned that the IVY League plays their games on Friday through Sunday. I also learned that the home team on Friday will switch colors (dark/white) for its Saturday home game because there is not enough time to wash the uniforms. Thanks Greg!

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I always search out the Hall of Fame at the older schools. The Hall of Fame area always brings up one of my heroes from the past.  I came across Princeton graduate Bill Bradley who was the unsung hero of the 1969 champion New York Knicks. I can still hear Marv Albert saying “Bradley from the top of the key. YES!!!”

I always take a picture of a mascot statue whenever I see one. Many of statues would stand on their own as museum pieces. I present to you the Princeton Tiger.

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Both Princeton and Dartmouth were out of the running for the top four playoff spots in the Ivy League. It was senior night which is always emotional even if you are not familiar with the players. Princeton dominated the whole game led by Amir Bell of Princeton playing his last game before the Princeton crowd.

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Okay I have to show one more cool statue in the lobby.2018-02-24 18.46.53.jpg

From the Princeton web site:

“The life-size bronze statue, depicting an under~graduate in football uniform, an academic gown slung over his shoulder, a pile of books in his left arm, was a memorial likeness of W. Earl Dodge 1879, leader of a group of students who formed the Intercollegiate Y.M.C.A. in 1876 in nearby East College. Remembered by his classmates as “79’s great hero of college days,” captain of the championship football team, president of the student religious organization, the Philadelphian Society, an honor student who graduated near the top of his class, Earl Dodge died suddenly at the age of twenty-five. “The statue was given by his brother Cleveland H. Dodge 1879.

Rest in peace W. Earl Dodge.

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Next game: Iona at Rider 02/25/18

 

 

 

Houston (80) vs. Temple (59) 02/18/18

#63 of 351  17% complete

Today was Hooter’s birthday. The Temple mascot brought in his mascot friends for a birthday party.  As I entered the Liacouras Center, I was startled by the number of strange creatures milling in the hallway.

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However I did have the pleasure of meeting the real live mascot of the Temple Owls – Stella. I have always been partial to owls especially the one in “My Cousin Vinny” that woke up Joe Pesci.

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Here is the gathering of mascots on the court for the birthday party.

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The game was over as soon as it started. Houston was tremendously hot and Temple was not. It is a rare time when I hear booing from the crowd at a college basketball game.

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I can not believe that Rob Gray is still playing for Houston. It seems like he has been there forever. They are big and quick with no apparent weaknesses. I like them to go far in March.

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I vote the Liacouras Center as my favorite so far in terms of food concessions. There were dozen of places to eat offering different styles. It was quite a contrast to the Lasalle and St. Joe’s offerings.

I was trying to get a cheese steak at the famous Geno’s before the game. I was practicing my order “steak with prov and onions” as coached by my cousin Brian. Any deviation from these words would result in immediate ejection by the cranky order takers. After driving around for 15 minutes trying to find a parking spot, I gave up and took in some sightseeing near Independence Hall. It is amazing how all the cars were packed on these one way streets near Geno’s. I plan to UBER their next year to get my cheese steak.

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Houston dominated the boards led by Breaon Brady a 6’8″ 245 pound forward who was very imposing from my front row seat. Devin Davis was hot all night for Houston. The game was over by the half. The Temple fans were geared for an upset but left upset by the results.

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I felt sorry for the Temple fans who stand until the first Temple basket. Houston ran off to 15-0 lead. I saw some of the old timers wave their arms in disgust and sat down.

That’s it for my triple header in Philly.

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Next game: Dartmouth at Princeton 2/24/18

 

 

 

 

Duquesne (75) vs. St. Joseph’s (82) 02/17/18

#62 of 351  17% complete

“The Hawk never dies” is the slogan of the St. Joseph’s Hawks. To symbolize this motto, the Hawk mascot flaps his wings continuously the entire game till he leaves the court. Actually, it is a girl in the costume who waves one wing then the other wing then both wings. During a timeout, she does a circle eight on the court flapping her wings. The girl gets a full scholarship for this job. Yes I watched and she did not stop flapping till she left the court at the end of the game. Here is a story about the mascot:

http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/tournament/2014/story/_/id/10703226/saint-joseph-hawk-mascot-never-stopped-flapping-wings-espn-magazine

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Before the game, Brian and I went looking for wings and a beer. Google brought up this place (which I will keep unnamed) with a fine looking bar. We called UBER and went off for some pre-game refreshments. As we were driving towards the place, the neighborhood kept looking dicier with each passing block.  As we pulled up to the place, I said that there is no way I am leaving the car. The lesson here is don’t be fooled by pretty pictures on Google. Check out the reviews too. We headed off to a place named Cavanaughs a few miles away. We feasted on some excellent wings and cold beer followed by a UBER ride back to the Hagan Arena.

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I was very impressed with St. Joseph’s game. They move the ball well with quickness and height. They were lead by senior guard Shavar Newkirk who was awarded before the game with a 1000 point ball.  I am very surprised that they are only 12-14 at this point in the season. I don’t think anybody is getting by Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

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The Hagan arena is a great place to see a game.  Not too big and not too small,  I can imagine how loud it gets during a game with a rival Philly team.

My freshman to watch was 6’9″ Hawks forward Taylor Funk (love that name). He has a nice jumper and was very mobile. He will be an A-10 star in the next few years.

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Check out the great nachos bar in the arena and the huge fan shop located next to the arena.

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Next game: Houston at Temple 02/18/18

 

George Mason (62) vs. LaSalle (69) 02/17/18

#61 of 351  17% complete

I was joined by my cousin Brian for the next two games. Brian’s coworker’s wife works in the Lasalle athletic department. He set up a very cool surprise for me. During a time out, my Operation 351 mission was announced to the crowd. I was wished luck on my journey and given a Lasalle hat by a dance team member. My picture was flashed on the big screen. Thanks Brian for a special day!

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You could see my cousin in the big screen holding the phone up. I was greeted by several fans asking questions about my quest.  I do this for myself but it is always fun to meet folks who wish they could be doing what I am doing.

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My favorite Lasalle player was named Pookie Powell. How can you go wrong with a name like that? Both teams played hard in this Atlantic 10 battle. I have still have horrific memories of the George Mason win against UCONN in 2006 when the 11th seeded Patriots defeated my beloved number one seed Huskies in the Elite 8 game.

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If you decide to go to the Tom Gala arena, I would suggest that you eat somewhere else ahead of time. There is only one concession stand that gets quickly overwhelmed at half time. However a shout out to Lasalle for providing free parking at the Shoppes at Lasalle shopping center. Too many colleges are starting to inflate their parking charges to make some revenue.

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Both teams are suffering through a mediocre season with Lasalle at 11-16 and George Mason at 12 -15. But is cool to see a team like this battle it out in its  league tournament a week before March Madness starts. Sometimes a Cinderella does slip through for a team you saw during the year.

The Lasalle mascot is one of the coolest mascots. When your team name is an Explorer, you need a keen imagination to come up with an outfit looking like one.

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My player of the game was Tony Washington of Lasalle. This 6’10 230 pound center was an imposing figure on both ends of the court. George Mason had no match up for him. Good to see Duane Simpkins the Maryland alumni on the George Mason bench. You feel your age when you see players that you watched a few years ago now end up as coaches.

There were was quite a contingent of Patriots fans at the game making the trek from Virginia.

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Next game: Duquense at St.Josephs 02/17/18

 

 

Seton Hall (80) vs. Georgetown (83) 02/10/18

#60 of 351  17% complete

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I have reached a milestone with game #60. When a golfer hits his age, it is considered a noteworthy event. I will never attain that goal but I did achieve game #60 at the age of 60.  I also had the pleasure of meeting up with Gregory Koch who lives in the D.C. area. He is a fellow traveler on the college basketball circuit and is a helper on the Sports Passport site.

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I did visit this arena many years ago when Georgetown played UCONN. You may ask why did I not include that game in my Operation 351 journey. The reason is that although I know I was at the game, I don’t remember when and have no physical evidence that I attended. You may be thinking “Who Cares?” but if I ever do reach the 351 mark, I want no questions asked about the veracity of each visit.

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The gentleman above takes out this cardboard Georgetown sign and whirls it around like a man advertising a furniture sale on a seedy street corner. His unbridled enthusiasm for such a mundane task led me to snap his picture.  I am all for fan traditions so keep on trucking my friend.

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I love Seton Hall as a sleeper during March Madness. They are a senior laden group led by Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado. These guys have played together for four years and are playing good basketball these days. However, the star for the Pirates today was sophomore Myles Powell who was unconscious from three point land. Powell was the high scorer of the game with 25 points.

That being said, this was Georgetown’s night with a much needed win. They had a 17 point lead in the first half but Seton Hall slowly ate away at it. With the score tied at 80,  Marcus Derrickson of Georgetown hit a three point shot. He was fouled but miss the foul shot. Seton Hall’s last second three point shot by Powell clanged off of the rim.

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It was very cool to drive by the Capitol and the Pentagon on my back to the hotel near Dulles. At this point, I usually insert a picture of the final scoreboard. I thought that I took a picture but I do not see it on my phone. There was a lot of excitement at the end so I blame it on that.

Next game :  George Mason at Lasalle 02/17/18

 

Northwestern (57) vs. Maryland (73) 02/10/2018

#59 of 351  16% complete

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It was amazing to me to see such a large arena on a college campus. The Xfinity Center would rival any big city arena hosting an NBA team. What I don’t understand is how they are able to serve alcohol in the arena giving that it is located on a college campus. I am not complaining but it was a mute point. I’m not paying $12 for a craft beer.

Today’s noon game will be a doubleheader day followed by Georgetown at 4PM.  I try to schedule multiple games on a day or weekend given the fact that I am now flying to destinations or doing very long drives. The low lying fruit has been picked so to speak. My ultimate dream is to do a triple header on one day ideally a noon game, a 4PM game and a 7PM game.

I arrived early and did my 10,000 steps around the campus. This a typical Big 10 sprawling layout. I should have done a better job of researching the parking especially when it started raining. I followed a link on the UMD site for a $15 parking permit. The parking ended up being in a garage next to the football stadium. It was a 10 minute walk to the arena but I am sure that I could have snagged a STUB HUB parking pass for cheaper and closer.

I am reminded about that painful game in 2002 when Juan Dixon and Maryland defeated UCONN in the Elite 8 to go on and win the national championship. Caron Butler scored 26 points in the second half but it was not enough. Congratulations to Caron on his retirement and new book!

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Let me announce that I had my first ever Chick-Fil-A sandwich at the arena.

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Maryland was giving away yellow shirts as part of their “Wear Gold” day. Only certain sections had them draped over the seat even with some in the upper levels. I could not figure any rhyme or reason for the placement of the shirts. So yes I sneaked over and grabbed a shirt off of an unoccupied seat in the second half. I don’t need a shirt and this one is ugly. However, it is the thrill of the chase that compels me.

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Maryland has a neat tradition where they unfurl a Maryland flag in the student section from the top sections to the bottom.  They also repeat the word “oh” during the national anthem.

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Maryland played an outstanding game. This Northwestern club is certainly not the darling team that everyone fell in love with last year during March Madness. Kevin Huerter from Maryland was raining threes. Anthony Cowan was penetrating and hoisting some beautiful floaters. Meanwhile, Northwestern looked very much out of sync.

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Maryland is on the bubble. I am not sure how much noise they will make in March. It is difficult sitting during a game watching enthusiastic fans cheer on their team when back in Connecticut my beloved Huskies are facing dark times.

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Next game : Seton Hall at Georgetown 02/10/18

 

 

UNC Wilmington (100) vs. Northeastern (107) OT 02/03/18

58 of 351  16% complete

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After multiple attempts over the past three years, I finally made it to Northeastern. Storms and pressing family events made for multiple cancellations. This trip will complete the journey through all six New England states. Mathews Arena built in 1910 is the oldest indoor ice hockey arena still being used for hockey — and is the oldest multi-purpose athletic building still in use in the world .

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If you come to see a game here, please be advised to eat elsewhere and not in the arena. I bought a chicken sandwich and fries at the concession stand. It has my vote for the worst arena food in Operation 351 so far. But the place has a certain ambiance that old arenas have. Seeing the radiators in the hall reminded me of an antique old house with the ghosts who played in this arena.

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As a UCONN Husky fan, it was weird to hear cheers for the Huskys. Washington, Northern Illinois and Houston Baptist are the other clubs in Division 1 sharing the Husky mascot.

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The game started out well for UNCW in the first half but Northeastern took over in the second half. They could not quite put the UNCW Seahawks away. A banked in three point shot at the buzzer by the Seahawks sent the game into overtime. Anyone else impressed with the Seahawks colors?

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I was very impressed with Northeastern freshman forward Tomas Murphy. The 6’9″ forward from Rhode Island showed a deft touch underneath with a variety of moves. He’s following older brothers Erik (Florida) and Alex (Duke/Florida) to college basketball. The Huskys showed crisp passing and great outside shooting from Vasa Pusica a 6’5″ sharpshooter from Serbia.

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Here is the final shot of the scoreboard which was blurry the entire game.

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Next game: Northwestern at Maryland 02/10/18

Southern Wesleyan (48) vs. Western Carolina (108) 01/25/18

57 of 351  16% complete

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I avoid see Division 2 teams play Division 1 teams like the plague. It is never a contest and most always results in blowouts like it did tonight. However I do have extenuating circumstances which made for an exception.

As I stated in a earlier post, my wife miraculously agreed to seeing a second game on our North Carolina trip. If you look at the map, UNC Asheville and Western Carolina in Cullowhee are fairly close to each other. If I did not do Western Carolina this time, I would have to make a separate trip and go to great lengths on that trip to see a second team probably in Tennessee or South Carolina. Make sense?

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I won’t talk about the game much because it was tough to watch. Western Carolina had superior height and quickness over the the Division 2 club. I will note that Western Carolina sets the record for most cheerleaders in Operation 351 so far with a grand total of 23.

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I knew that this was trouble when I saw the upper level seats covered with black cloth. I wondered why Western Carolina would schedule a D-II club late in January. A little research brought up the fact that this game was originally scheduled on 12/8/17 but was canceled due to snow. What made it worse that Southern Wesleyan was not even a good D-II team. They were 1-9 in their league and 2-17 overall.

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Here is a little sad news. The Western Carolina mascot is the catamount which was declared officially extinct this week.

http://www.wcax.com/content/news/Catamount-officially-declared-extinct-470983003.html

Here is a picture of one:

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That’s all for now.

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Next game : UNC Wilmington at Northeastern 02/03/18

 

 

Gardner-Webb (60) vs. UNC-Asheville (65) 01/24/18

56 of 351  15% complete

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My wife Linda is not a college basketball fan or a sports fan in general. She agrees to go on one Operation 351 trip a year as long as other activities are included that are for her. So this year, we picked the see UNC-Asheville followed by a visit to the Biltmore Mansion.

As you can see below, she is prepping for the game by reading a book on the Biltmore Mansion. However, she will shock me with a surprise which I reveal later below.

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I need to include a picture of the Biltmore Mansion because it is well worth a visit if you are in this area. But that is as far as I will diverge from the Operation 351 mission.

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As is customary, I always point out items that are a first for me during the Operation 351 journey.

Item #1

The UNC Asheville mascot entered the arena down a rope at center court. I think that this is a voluntary position or may be paid with a hot dog at the end of the game but that would be definitely be outside my job responsibilities if I were the mascot.

Item #2

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This blood pressure machine located in a college basketball arena is a first for me. My beloved UCONN boys have suffered through a terrible season and now are under NCAA investigation for recruiting violations. Based on some of the UCONN games personally attended this year, my blood pressure would have read off the scale if this baby was at the Gampel Arena.

Item #3

This is the first game in the Operation 351 journey where the mascots are the SAME for both teams. – Bulldogs. The scoreboard could only use one mascot name for the team. They chose to use GWU for Gardner-Webb.

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Gardner-Webb is from Boiling Springs, North Carolina which is only 1 1/2 hours away from Asheville. I sense that there is a rivalry between these Big South league teams. A loud and raucous group of Gardner-Webb fans showed up to cheer on their team. It was all good natured ribbing between the student bodies.

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The game was back and forth throughout the entire game. I was kidding Linda that this game could go into multiple overtimes prompting a scowl on her face.

I enjoyed watching Kevin Vannatta of UNC Asheville play. He was a hard nosed kid that played hard and wore his emotions on his sleeve. He was the type of player that you hate to play against. His spirited play helped the Bulldogs (oops UNC Asheville) pull the game out at the end.

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Yes that is a Hardees mascot in the corner.

The arena was an excellent place to see a game. I always wonder how branches of state universities afford such great arenas but I guess North Carolina must be doing well.

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Welcome to the smallest pep band so far in Operation 351. There were some older folks in the band. Perhaps the flu struck down the entire band and replacements were called in.

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So I am saving the biggest thrill of the night for last. In all my Operation 351 games to date, I have not a caught a T-shirt. Tonight I modified my technique to hug the shirt to my chest instead of having it bounce off my hands into the row in front of me.  SUCCESS!

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Of course, the “GASES” part brought chuckles from my wife and kids.

Next Game: Southern Wesleyan at Western Carolina 01/25/18

As I was contemplating what to do on our off night, I happen to glance at the Division 1 school map of the United States. Western Carolina looked pretty close about one hour away. I saw that Western Carolina was playing. I jokingly mentioned it to Linda not expecting to hear the words “Sure let’s go!”.  Of course, I rewarded her with more shopping trips the next morning but it was worth it. What a trooper!

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