Sacred Heart (64) vs Lafayette (62) 12/02/18

Game #71 of 353   20% complete

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The rain continued to fall in the Lehigh Valley as we headed over Sunday to Easton to see the Lafayette Leopards. As we drove up to the Kirby Sports Center, the building looked historically old as we drove around looking for parking. Going around to the other side, we encountered a morphed building with a modern look. A little WIKI research found the following explaining the dual look : “Dedicated on June 2, 2000, the $35 million Allan P. Kirby Sports Center includes a new, 110,000-square-foot  intramural and recreational sports facility attached to the previously existing Kirby Field House. The field house itself received a $2.5 million face lift and interior renovations.”

The campus reminded me so much of the Holy Cross campus. The school buildings are situated on a hill side mixed in with older style residential houses.

Here are a couple of pictures of the cool looking football arena adjacent to the field house.

I had to call the ticket office last week to inquire about courtside seats. I always tell my Operation 351 story to anyone who might be interested. As I was picking up the tickets, I met the women manning the ticket office who immediately started asking questions about the mission. They thought it was pretty cool which always gives me that added dose of adrenaline to keep this this quest going.

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The halls were filled with displays of Lafayette sports history. The red uniform above was an 1890 football uniform. Another case had a basketball from the early 1900’s.  I  believe that every campus arena should have these displays with the Palestra being the model.

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Being from Connecticut, it is always a treat to see a local club (Sacred Heart) come in as a visitor far away from Connecticut. However, my rule is to always root for the home school with the sole exception when I see UCONN as the visitor.

So I have been asked, “If you are such a die hard UCONN fan, how can you miss games like the Arizona/UCONN game Sunday to see a game in Pennsylvania?” My answer is that it getting increasingly difficult to schedule back to back games that minimize the cost and time traveling from Connecticut. I also have to insure that the games fit into my personal schedule given that I do have a life outside of Operation 351 and also with other Operation 351 games previously scheduled. When the opportunity presents itself, I grab it knowing that I can always watch UCONN delayed afterwards. I did die a slow death watching the end of the Airzona/ UCONN game live on the TV in the arena hall at halftime.

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This was a very entertaining back and forth game to watch. I am always concerned about an overtime game when it is the last game to see before heading home. With the score tied at 62, a missed three pointer by Sacred Heart was tipped in with three seconds to go by Jare’l Spelman to give the Pioneers the win. The 6’10” Spelman had a long reach and frequently out rebounded the smaller Lafayette team. Hard to imaging that Spelman was a transfer from Division 2 school Florida Southern. He must have truly dominated down there.

                                                  Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Next game : Depaul at Villanova 1/2/19

 

 

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Arkansas State (70) vs. Lehigh (82) 12/01/18

Game #70 of 353  19% complete

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The 3 1/2 hour ride from Connecticut was made easier with the company of my friend Andy who has completed 12 Operation 351 games with me over the years. I am anticipating one more car ride to Philly this year and a couple more to Pennsylvania and New York next year before turning to plains and trains.  It is a sign of progress for me that I have run out of driveable games to go to. Although technically any game can be driven to but I cut it off at the 4 hour mark.

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The Stabler Athletic and Convention Center was opened up in 1979 and showing her age. The old lady could use a fresh coat of paint on the walls and floors. It is rare that I can take my half time walk around the perimeter halls and encounter nothing but a couple of concession stands. I always look for school memorabilia and achievements but there was absolutely nothing. The stands were void of students except for the cheerleaders and pep band. I assumed it was class break but the last day of classes are December 8th unless I am misunderstanding the academic schedule. Given that Lehigh is one of the stronger teams in the Patriot League, I expected more excitement.

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One of the joys of visiting small arenas is the opportunity to sit in court side seats for a reasonable price. This was the case for this game and the Lafayette game. One does not appreciate the speed and quickness of the games till you are sitting eye level and up close. You also get a better sense of the offensive scheme and patterns a team runs from this perspective.

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This game was a classic case of size (Lehigh) vs. quickness (Arkansas State). The height advantage underneath was too much for the Redwolves (love this name) to overcome. I was very impressed with Arkansas State guard Ty Cockfeld who scored 30 points with an all around solid game. Lehigh answered with Kyle Leufroy who scored 20 points with clutch shooting down the stretch.

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I used some well honed begging techniques to acquire this t shirt from a cheer leader. Although I am like many of  who have too many t shirts, this is one more piece of memory from my Operation 351 journey.

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Perhaps this is the game I should have gone to!

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Next game: Sacred Heart vs. Lafayette 12/02/2018

 

 

 

Misericordia (64) vs. Binghamton (107) 11/12/18

#69 of 353  19% complete

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I always report on “firsts” in this blog. Tonight was the first time that I heard a school’s fight song blaring from loud speakers outside the entrance.

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I really try to avoid seeing D2/3 teams playing D1 teams in my travels. The truth is that it becomes difficult trying to find back to back games fitting into my schedule that make a long trip worthwhile. Given that the mission is to attend a game at every D1 campus, I will put up with a groaner game every now and then. BTW Misericordia is from Dallas, PA.

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It was an interesting contrast seeing the skill and athletic ability of the D3 team Misericordia players vs. the D1 players. A D3 player was typically a star on his high school team but lacks one or more athletic or basketball skills to compete at the D1 level. They may be a great outside shooter but slow as molasses. They may be tall but have hands of stone underneath the rim. The D3 players makes up for these weaknesses with hustle and effort but as the score indicates, that will only take you so far. The first half of the first half did make for a competitive game much to the chagrin of the old Binghamton fans sitting around me. As the game wore on, the Misericordia players worn down as the score margin became wider and wider.

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This is the fourth time that I have seen Binghamton play. The freshmen that I saw in the first game against Maine on 01/30/16 are now seniors. I actually remember Tim Rose as a confident ball handling freshman who is now one of the leading assist makers in the America East Conference.

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With all due respect to Binghamton, the city is a tough place to hang out in November. Most attractions close down for the week and are only open on weekends.  I do recommend two Italian restaurants that served great food: Michelangelo’s and Le Venice. Without an exercise room in the hotel, my net poundage did increase this trip. A five mile walk in Ostiningo park did help a little.

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A nice little perk that Binghamton does is to throw out a t shirt to the crowd for every Binghamton three point shot made. Also, each fan was given a coupon for a free donut at Dunkin Donuts because there were three Binghamton dunks.

Next game:  Arkansas State Vs. Lehigh 12/1/18

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Colgate (73) vs. Cornell (57) 11/11/18

#68 of 353  19% complete

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After a 4 hour ride from Connecticut, this venue met all the requirements for an relaxing afternoon. The parking lot was free and a short distance from the entrance. The ticket was cheap and close to the court. No traffic or lines were encountered.  It was a beautiful day to admire the rolling hillsides of the Catskills. All the check boxes were checked.

This game will almost complete for me all the schools in the Ivy League. For all you old Sports Passport fans, I would earn a “Ivy League” stamp. I am often asked “How did you get started doing this insane journey?”. I came across the Sports Passport site about 5 years ago.  As you attend each event, you can check in and record your visit. Stats are accumulated totaling up the number of games, venues, players, etc. There are supplemental functions like friends and earning badges. My 68 games are out there under the name “Operation351”.

The original Sports Passport site had college basketball badges for each state and each league completed. The current site pared down the badges to more general achievements much to my chagrin. There were also some specialty badges but one badge caught my eye. It was titled “351” which was earned when someone visited all 351 D1 venues. No one had earned the badge.  The light bulb went off in my head thinking about my love of travel and college basketball. So here am I 68 games later!

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I saw that fellow college basketball junkie John Witkowski tweeted that he was at the Cornell game. He titles his quest “Mission351” and is currently at 115 games. That is quite an achievement considering he is much younger than me and working full time. After exchanging tweets, it turns out that we were in the same row a few seats apart. We chatted at half time about upcoming plans and experiences with our travels. It is comforting to know that there are other crazies out there like myself. Safe travels the rest of the way John!

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Syracuse Jim Boeheim’s son Jim plays for Cornell.  Coach Jim and his wife were sitting one section over from me. I noticed that not one person came over to him during the game so I decided against playing the obnoxious fan part asking for a picture. See below for a picture of little Jim on the court and Big Jim and Mrs. Jim walking out to the parking lot.

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Cornell was hoping to go 3-0 for the first time in two decades but Colgate was the better team today, Colgate sophomore guard Jordan Burns was very impressive today slashing the lanes multiple times for layups. He also made some pull up jump shots to hold the Big Red at bay. BTW – Jimmy Boeheim did not have a good day so I suspect Dad was not in a good mood.

Did you ever go looking for one Waldo but found many?

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Next Game : Misericordia at Binghamton 11/12/18

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Bucknell (88) vs. St. Bonaventure (85) OT 11/07/18

#67 of 353  19% complete

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This was my first time to this part of the country. The ride south from Buffalo to Allegany was picturesque to say the least with rolling hillsides and farms populated with small houses and hundreds of acres behind them. I was stuck behind a school bus part of the way down.  Usually the frequent starts and stops can make one a little anxious but I was surprised how calming it was because it gave me a chance to check out the scenic views with each stop.

With a few recommendations from REDDIT, I had to stop and try the burger at Burton’s along with a couple of brews. The place slowly filled up with Bona fans adorned with their official  t-shirts. I asked an older gentlemen next to me on how did he think the team would do this year. He was very unsure because they lost superstar Jaylen Adams and other key personnel. The incoming freshman were heralded but untested, But there was universal consensus among the patrons that the Buffalo Bills are the worst team in football. Yes the burger was excellent!

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I classify the Reilly Center as an arena with lots of “SOL”. By “SOL”, I mean small,  old and loud. These are my favorite type of venues. As you can see, the student body showed up in force on opening night. The Bonnies are riding off a high from last year when they defeated lower seed UCLA in a First Four contest in Dayton. A banner was unfurled in a ceremony before the game. There was a moment of confusion on my part when the banner read “First Round”. They won so how could it read “First Round” but then I realized that the First Four games were not considered a round.

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I sometimes highlight young and upcoming talent here. I would like to do that now from both clubs.

For St. Bonaventure, I was impressed with freshman Dominic Welch and Osun Osunniyi. Welch is a local Buffalo product who averaged 30 points a game in his senior year. He has a nice stroke and should improve his all around game with more experience. Osunniyi is a thin 6’10” center from New Jersey who dominated the boards at times offensively and defensively.  Both of these kids made key freshman mistakes down the end but coach Mark Schmidt has a couple of keepers on his hand.

For Bucknell, I was impressed with Paul Newman a 6′ 9″ sophomore from Philly, He had a street game that resulted in several great plays keeping the Bisons in the game when the Bonnies tried to pull away in the second half.

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St. Bonaventure was at a distinct disadvantage this game because they were missing their best player injured  Courtney Stockard. He erupted for 26 points last year against UCLA. Nevertheless, this was an exciting game as most overtime games are. The game was interrupted several times by the referees reviewing plays. I understand the concept of getting it right but sometimes the excessive reviews slows down the game and momentum for whoever has it at the time.

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A shout out to Bucknell senior guard Kimbal Mackenzie from Ontario. His 28 points and clutch foul shooting was the difference down the stretch. Both teams will be a handful for any opponent in March.

A lesson in life was learned tonight. Always remember what entrance you come into the arena. Should there be a similar entrance on the other side of the building like the Reilly Center which you exit from and walk a mile looking for your car in the opposite direction, you wish that you were more careful!

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Next game : Colgate Vs. Cornell  11/11/18

 

 

St. Francis (PA) (67) vs. Buffalo (82) 11/08/2018

#66 of 351  19% complete

Driving from the airport, I was reminded that I will be seeing the Buffalo Bulls tonight.

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I am excited to begin my fifth year visiting college basketball arenas with the goal of seeing a college basketball game at all of the 353 Division 1 schools. I have been asked several times about “Operation 351” when there are 353 schools. Given that this domain name and various media tied to my journey have the “351” incorporated into the name, it would foolish  to change the name every time a school pops in and out of Division 1.

Here is a link to the latest changes to Division 1 status: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_schools_reclassifying_their_athletic_programs_to_NCAA_Division_I

I attempted to visit Buffalo last year but had to cancel because of a blizzard. The lesson learned is to schedule cold weather schools early or late in the season. Therefore, I will be visiting  Buffalo, St. Bonaventure, Binghamton and Cornell in the first two weeks of November. The weather for this Buffalo game was 55 degrees but with a wind blowing very hard.

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If you come to a Buffalo game, prepared to look long and hard for parking if you are a visitor with no special privileges. There was a football game going on that night in the stadium next to Alumni Arena which may have exasperated the problem but it was a long blustery walk to the arena.

Many college basketball fans forget that #14 seed Buffalo defeated #3 seed Arizona last year in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I believe that the UMBC win over Virginia overshadowed the Buffalo win.  Buffalo returns three very talented seniors this year and is picked to finish first in the MAC. C.J. Massinburg was picked to be the preseason MAC player of the year. St. Francis (PA) was picked to be first in the NEC.  It is rare when two good evenly matched teams play in a season opener.

The game start time was 4PM so as to not clash with the 7PM football game start. The stands were virtually empty at the start but filled up with fans gradually. Given that I travel far and wide for games these day, I get a little paranoid showing up and finding out that the game was sold out. I buy my tickets ahead of time on the school site, Ticketmaster or Stub Hub. There was very little selection left last week so I picked an upper level seat probably paying more than I should have on Stub Hub. As it turns out, many sections are reserved for students and season ticket holders giving the appearance of scarce seats available to the general public.  The Alumni Arena has great viewing from all levels so I was happy with my seat even though it was out of range from the many t -shirts thrown into the crowd at every three point basket made.

I vote this gentleman as the best singer of the national anthem in my travels so far. I did not catch his name but his voice belongs in an opera.

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I was very impressed with the defense of the Buffalo guards. They drew numerous offensive charges instead of playing the matador defense I am used to seeing these days. Although their three point shooting was off tonight, their relentless pressure on the ball caused St. Francis to take many contested shots.

I saw a first tonight for me in terms of the rules. A player was called for a offensive foul. The refs conferred and reviewed the play. The call was overturned to a blocking foul. I did not not know that this call could be reviewed!

Buffalo pulled away in the second half. One could tell that this team is experienced by the ball flow on offense. They always seem to make the unselfish pass. Look for good things from this Buffalo team as they take on a tough out of league schedule including West Virginia and Cuse.

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The highlight of the day was meeting Nate Mendelson who is the sports editor of the Spectrum newspaper at the University of Buffalo. He saw my posts on Reddit and came over to meet me at my seat. He interviewed me for an article in the paper. But the best part was that he invited me to the post game press conference. After the presser was over, he introduced me to coach Nate Oats and told him about my mission. He was genuinely interested as we chatted about Operation 351, his team and his friendship with UCONN coach Dan Hurley.  Coach Oats, you have won over this guy to be a lifelong Buffalo fan. Good luck the rest of the way!

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Next Game : Bucknell vs. St. Bonaventure 11/8/18

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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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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