Alabama A&M (55) vs. Alcorn State (61) 02/25/19

Game #81 of 353   22% complete

Alcorn State is a fine institution having the distinction of being the first black land grant college established in the United States. Located in Lorman, Mississippi, there is not a plethora of activities to embark on in this beautiful part of the country. Therefore, to fill the void, we stayed in nearby Natchez along the mighty Mississippi River.

Natchez has the highest concentration of antebellum houses in the south. We embarked on a tour via a golf cart visiting different historic sights in Natchez.

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One may have heard of the Natchez Trace. Natchez Trace is a national trail spanning from Nashville,TN, terminating in Natchez, MS. The 50 mph speed limit is strictly enforced as we saw numerous cars pulled over by the police. We spent a few miles on it from our trip from Madison to Natchez. The scenic road is maintained by the National Park Service.

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The Alcorn State game lacked a band, cheerleaders and a dance team providing quite a contrast to the game earlier with Jackson State. After partaking on a 45 minute ride from Natchez, Tony and I were situated in excellent seats for a mere $10 ticket.

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The David Whitney Complex has a classic style with the old style wooden bleachers in the upper levels and chairbacks on the lower level. The 7000 seat capacity is deceiving given the small exterior of the building.

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It is interesting to note that Alabama A&M is currently under probation for low APR scores and ineligible for NCAA tournament play.  Despite no chance to qualify for any post season play, I give them credit for the intrinsic motivation to play a hard game given those circumstances.

This game completes my journey through Mississippi seeing all  six Division 1 schools in this state.

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So I will close by stating that I had the best fried chicken at the Old Country Store. This place was featured on the Food Network Channel and Southern Living Magazine. It is well worth a visit should one come to Lorman, Mississippi, the home of Alcorn State.

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So I bid good bye to all till the next college basketball season. Best wishes and thanks for reading!

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Grambling State (60) vs. Jackson State (71) 02/24/19

Game #80 of 351     22% complete

A trip to Jackson, Mississippi should always start with a trip to Brent’s Soda Fountain. This iconic 50’s retro diner was host to a scene from the movie “The Help”.

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The standard dish of a burger, fries and a chocolate milk shake immediately wiped out the gains from a brisk 5 mile walk earlier in the day.

As is tradition, I always point out the “firsts” on my journey. This game was the first where the two teams shared the same team name – “Tigers”.

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The impressive tiger portal was on display as we entered the arena. The closest competitor to this magnificent tiger portal was Maine’s illustrious black bear portal which is pictured on my Maine blog page. It was a nice touch to see the kids dressed up in tiger outfits and doing cheers throughout the game.

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There have been times in my journey where the side events during the game out shadow the game itself. This was the case tonight. I was accompanied by my wife Linda and friends Tony and Chelsea. They were entertained during the game by the students and band. During each time out, a song would come on bringing the students out from the stands into a dance frenzy in the aisles and around the court. The band was loud with dancing drummers and swaying horn players.

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At half time, the entire student body took to the court dancing. We were entranced by the dance moves and the in sync coordination between the students in each line.

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Both teams were very athletic, making for a quick paced game. The poor foul shooting from both sides told me that these schools recruit fast athletes who can jump but may not be schooled on the fundamentals. I have seen this a few times with smaller schools who opt for exciting play to draw in the fans.

In the course of my journey,  I always try to discern why players with a height advantage are not more well rounded players. My theory is that their impressive physical attributes get them through high school with little effort on the fundamentals of basketball but ill prepares for the next level.

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How cool was it it to be stopped on the road to make way for the marching band on the street. Another first!

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Next game : Alabama A&M at Alcorn State 02/25/19

 

 

 

 

 

 

UCONN (67) vs. University of Central Florida (73) 01-31-19

Game #79 of 353  22%

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I escaped the brutally cold temperatures in Connecticut to take in a road game for my beloved UConn Huskies. I have developed some strategies for planning my journey in the future years. The first is to hit the cold weather states early in November or in early March before the league tournaments start. Navigating blizzards and polar vortexes is not on my fun list of things to do. Next year, I plan to visit the last four schools in upper state New York to complete the entire state. Beyond that in later years, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan and other north border states will be done early or late to minimize weather problems.  Secondly as my old bones age, I will save the southern warm states for my later years.  If I continue my current pace and continue to breathe, I will be hitting the last school in my late seventies. Florida, California and Texas shall wait for me! Thirdly, I hope to do one UCONN road game a year to add to my quest and get to see UCONN play.

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I probably need to do a better job of checking distances to the arenas before heading out. My wife Linda accompanied me on this trip for her one obligatory game a year. As always, her attendance is predicated on extra curricular tourists trips as in Disneyworld this year. Before the game, we met up with an ex coworker who was retired and enjoying the Florida weather and cross country trips in a RV. I set dinner time at 6:30PM in a  Disney Springs restaurant  thinking I had plenty of time to see a 9PM game in Orlando. How big could Orlando be? As we sat down for dinner, one of us checked Google maps and saw that the arena was a freaking 45 minutes away much to my surprise. We made it with 10 minutes to spare but lesson learned!

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To be greeted by palm trees entering the arena was a treat. The CFE arena is new and pretty spiffy inside. The overall effect is gold and black. There were many empty seats around me in the end section. Although the crowd was enthusiastic, I was surprised by the many open seats. I wonder if the tourist setting of Orlando contributes to a lack of fan interest from a transitory population. Pyscho babble at its best!

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I have seen quite of few AAC games this year. I nominate B.J. Taylor of UCF as the player of the year. He has done the most to improve his club this year. Best known as a slasher, he has developed a sweet outside shot. He continually made the big shot tonight when needed. Conversely, I have seen little improvement of Tacko Fall over his career. A man of that size should dominate every night. The man is 7’6″ and weighs 310 pounds. It will be interesting to see if an NBA club will take a chance on him in the draft.

Now it is three days of fun in Disneyworld! Yeah I can still have fun there at my age.

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Next game: Grambling State at Jackson State 2/23/19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvard (84) vs. Howard (71) 01/21/19

Game #78 of 353 22% complete

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My day started off with a visit to Lincoln’s cottage located on an Armed Forces retirement complex. Lincoln lived here during the summer months and commuted back and forth to the White House and the Capitol. The cottage was reconstructed according to the original dimensions but did not contain too many artifacts. The meat of the tour was mostly in the Visitor Center viewing displays about Lincoln’s decisions that were made in the cottage like the Emancipation Declaration. It is worth a visit if you ever are in the Washington DC area.

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I thought it was a weird matchup having Harvard and Howard play each other. They’re not in the same league and play different opponents. However on Martin Luther King Day, it was great to see both teams interlocking arms during the national anthem. Kamala Harris who just announced her presidential run gave the opening remarks on the video board. She surprised everyone in the crowd later by walking around and saying hello.

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The Burr Gymnasium is an ideal place to see a ball game. It is all one level but oval-shaped and slanted down toward the court in Coliseum type of setup. The place was packed because many people have the day off. The game was highlighted with the very energetic pep band and dance team. They were a show unto themselves during the intermissions.

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Harvard had too much discipline for the Howard Bisons today. Their crisp passing and 3-point shooting kept the Bisons at bay during the whole game. The Crimson`s Ivy league style of play was probably confusing to the Bisons who do not see that type of offense too often.

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I did a good deed today. I caught a t-shirt thrown by the cheerleaders. In my enthusiasm in catching the shirt, I kind of ripped it out of an old lady’s hand sitting next to me. I can tell she was disappointed so I gave her the T-shirt. Her daughter said that made the old woman very happy.

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My mission in Washington D.C. is complete.

Next game: Uconn at UCF 01/31/19

Lafayette (84) vs. American (79) OT 01/19/19

Game #76 of 351 21% complete

This game is the first of a three game swing through our nation’s nation’s capital. Should you ever find yourself near the American University campus, do yourself a favor and walk along Nebraska Avenue towards the center of Tenleytown. A good 20 minute walk from Bender Arena past the Department of Homeland Security and beautiful historic homes through Tenley Circle is an excellent pregame warmup.

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As I stated in an earlier post, I am resolved to eat healthier on my journey. I searched for vegan food near American University and found a plethora of choices. The one that piqued my interest was Beefsteak subtitled “Vegetables Unleashed” – an oxymoron to say the least. The menu had burgers, salads and warm veggie bowls. I chose the Souper Stew with the ingredients as follows: spinach,  onion blend, rice, spicy tomato sauce, chickpeas, corn nuts, sherry vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, black pepper and pimento. Here is the problem. This dish was excellent and would do it all over again but I was hungry a half hour later. How do you get filled if you do not eat a burger, milkshake and fries? Fortunately, a box of popcorn at the game saved the day. One more challenge to work on on my journey!

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As I sat down in my chair back seat eagerly awaiting the start of the game, I was jolted by the arrival of a large man sitting down in my row at the opposite end. It was one of those seat constructions where a movement by anyone in the row is felt by everyone else in the row. My annoyance with each jostle in these kind of seats builds towards all humans as the game goes on.

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I have peculiar ways about judging an arena. At halftime, I like to get up and walk around the arena and view any historic crap hanging on the walls. If I can`t get to the other side of the arena because there are curtains blocking my way and I have to actually cross to the other side by going down to court level to cross, it is a black check mark against the venue. Enough said!

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This is the second time seeing the Lafayette club this year watching them host an overtime loss to Sacred Heart in December. Despite their 4-12 record, I love how this team plays. Their leading scorer is Justin Jaworski a 6 foot 1 inch guard from Pennsylvania who is fun to watch. You can tell that he is a gym rat spending hours in the gym honing his game. He is quick and shifty using head fakes and misdirections to keep his defenders off balance. I expect him to be on the Patriot first team all league at the end of the season. The Leopards are missing a big muscle guy underneath to do any real damage in the league but they still are fun to watch. Perhaps the overtime win today will turn around the season.

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If you ever have a chance to see comedienne Heather Macdonald, you will see a funny lady. My daughter and I traveled to Arlington to take in her show after the game. Her routine about her husband taking the emergency aisle seats to get more leg room is priceless. She does not want the responsibility that goes with it mentioning that she would the first one out the door waving to her fellow passengers shouting “Goodbye bitches!”. We laughed the whole night long.

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New game: Duquense at George Washington 01/20/19

Duquense (91) vs. George Washington (85) OT 01/20/19

 

Game #78 of 353 22% complete

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I have been on a couple of trips recently where I was staying overnight in a private residence. The owner was working and could not meet me early in the day to hold my bag. Such was the scenario on this trip with my daughter. I discovered an app called Vertoe that hooks you up with small vetted businesses that hold your bag for $5.95 a day. I have used Vertoe two times in D.C. using a Chinese cleaners and a gourmet deli. These kind of UBER apps providing on demand services are the wave of the future.

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So a word of warning to fans wanting to catch a game at the Charles Smith Arena to see a George Washington game.  As you can see from the picture, a first row seat in section 214 provides a rail to partially block your view of the court. I assume that this is the case with any front row in the upper section. We made nice to the usher and moved down to a center court seat in the lower section. For the second day in a row, I was accompanied by my DC resident friend Gregory who writes for Stadium Journey.  He loves college basketball as much as I do.

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I saw the largest human being ever on a college basketball team. Duquesne freshman Dylan Swingle is 6’11” and weighs 300 pounds. He is not fat either just huge. I can not imagine what he did last year to opponents in high school at Chillicothe, Ohio. Unfortunately, he never saw a minute of court play today.

Red Auerbach was a graduate of George Washington and is commemorated with a flag and a plaque.  Another unrelated fact is the GW court has a white background of the Capital and White House.

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So on my travels, I enjoy picking out freshman from mid majors and look for a star in the making. Keep your eye out for Duquense freshman Sincere Carry. He looks like Tyreke with a full beard and the appearance of a 25 year old. As a Mr. Ohio finalist, this kid was the glue for the Dukes who made several big shots and ran the offense distributing some excellent passes. GW fell behind huge at the beginning of the game but fought back to send it to overtime unfortunately losing in the end. This was my second OT game in a row.

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Next game: Harvard at Howard 01/21/19

Lost Games

I did not start this blog until a little bit into my journey. As a result the following teams are not in the blog but do count toward the 351 mark: The teams are listed here: UConn, Central Connecticut, Hartford, Quinnipiac, Yale, Providence, Brown, Fairfield, UMASS and Army.

So I thought it would be prudent to show proof that I actually attended these games since no blog post with pictures exists otherwise.

UCONN

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Central Connecticut

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Quinnipiac

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Brown

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Army

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UMASS

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Fairfield

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Yale

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Providence

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Savannah State (67) vs. Coppin State (73) 01/05/19

Game #75 of 353  21% complete

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Coppin State is in a not so nice area of Baltimore. Riots protesting the 2015 Freddie Grey shooting was very near the Coppin State campus. That being said as I drove through run down neighborhoods, I was a little on edge. Having been unsuccessful finding a spot to park on campus, I parked along the street in front of the Physical Education Center. As I walked into the arena, I was greeted by smiles by the staff as I went through security. I found a seat in the center of the court and witnessed a very entertaining basketball game. No worries!

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I tend to make UCONN connections as I continue on my journey. The head coach of Coppin State was Juan Dixon who scored 27 points for Maryland in a win against UCONN in the Eastern Regional final in 2002. The Savannah State coach was Horace Broadnax who played in a few Big East battles against UCONN in the 1980’s and helped Georgetown win the 1984 NCAA championship.

 

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I rooted extra hard for Coppin State because they were winless at this point. Both teams showed so much individual talent that might suffice in a one-on-one battle but lacked the fundamentals needed for a winning ball club. There were many individual highlight plays but there was just too much individual vs. team basketball. Savannah State is dropping to Division 2 next year so I was wondering about the mindset of the players who expected to be playing Division 1 ball.

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It was great to see the excitement of the Coppin State players winning their first game of the season. They had only lost by seven points at Notre Dame the game before so the talent is there. Good luck Eagles!

Next Game: Lafayette at American 01/19/19

 

Maine (52) vs. UMBC (61) 01/05/19

Game #74 of 353  20% complete

Arriving in Baltimore early morning well before the 1PM UMBC game, I drove to the Inner Harbor to tour the USS Constellation and a submarine the USS Torsk. I highly recommend this diversion because it gives one a true sense of the lack of comfort for sailors on these boats. Besides constantly ducking to avoid beams and the especially tight quarters on the submarine, my destiny back then would not have been in the Navy.

I chatted with a volunteer on the USS Torsk who happened to be fixing a fan but was working in the same area that he worked in back in 1965. He was in charge of some levers that controlled the throttle speed of the submarine. The submarine’s mission back then was to listen in on Russian subs near the Ireland coast. The torpedoes looked impressive and menacing.

I resolved this year to eat more healthy and to being visiting vegan restaurants on my Operation 351 journey.  As I finished touring the boats, the digestive juices did swirl triggering a look for a close by food place. Across the street I saw a Shake Shack calling my name. Another New Year’s resolution goes down the tubes!

So on to basketball….

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Not yet! I like to tour the campus sometimes before a game to get a little exercise. I ran into a dog named True Grit – the mascot of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County Retrievers. Rub his nose and you will get a lifetime of good luck. The model for the statue was a 5 year old Chesapeake Bay Retriever named Nitty Gritty. Although the university chose the name “True Grit” to symbolize the nature of the school, the dog Nitty Gritty did have the honor of pulling off the cloth at the 1987 dedication.

So really on to basketball..

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The UMBC Events Center is a brand new slick arena built last year. As I entered the lobby, I was greeted by a sign proclaiming the event heard around the world. On March 16th, 2018, 16th seeded UMBC defeated #1 Virginia 74-54. It was the first time in history that a sixteen seed defeated a number one seed. In the team fan shop, there are t-shirts and signs proclaiming the win for sale.

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This game was the America East league opener for both teams. UMBC standing overall at 8-7 and Maine at 2-15 were evenly matched in the first half but UMBC pulled away in the second half led by 6′ 10″ UMBC sophomore Brandon Horvath. His combination of three pointers and inside play proved the difference.

The Events Center arena proved to be an ideal place to watch a game. However, I do have one complaint. I am very used to looking at the scoreboard in the center of arena but this new arena did not have one. One has to look over to the side scoreboards or view the televised game up on the side wall. I kept looking up and then looking over to see the score.

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To conclude, I am at the airport in the TSA line. I over hear a gentleman discussing a 20 dollar bill that he found on the belt. The TSA man was reluctant to take it because I am sure there is no procedure on how to handle cash. I looked over and saw a Maine basketball backpack on this gentleman. As I took a closer look, I recognized him to be the head coach of Maine Richard Barron. As we both exited the TSA area, he was walking to the gate with his assistant Edniesha Curry. She is the only women coach for a D-1 men’s basketball program. So I introduced myself to them and told them about my journey. They seemed genuinely interested.  I told them that I was from Connecticut. Barron said that he was good friends with Geno. We said our goodbyes and we went off to our separate gates. I was mad at myself for not asking for a picture. Considering that he just lost a game and some stranger was talking to them while they had a plane to catch, both of them were very nice.

So I had time to catch a bite to eat and headed off to the nearest food place with beer. I am sitting there at the bar but guess who walks in. Yep and this time I was not going to blow it. I went over and asked for a picture. As I gave the camera to Ms. Curry,  Mark Curran said that Edniesha was really the “shining and upcoming star “.  So he asked a bar patron to take  a picture of all three of us.  Mark and Edniesha – I hope you reading this. I really appreciate you taking time to humor this old college basketball nut! Best of luck to you and the Black Bears!

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Next Game: Savannah State at Coppin State 01/05/19

 

 

 

Elon (65) vs. Drexel (79) 01/03/19

Game #73 of 353  20% complete

My cousin Brian and I started off the night at Abner’s for an old fashioned Philly cheese steak. Located near the Drexel campus, it came highly recommended by a coworker of Brian who is a Drexel graduate. Although the more famous Pat’s and Geno’s may be the hot tourists spots, Brian has had them all and said that Abner’s was equal to the task.

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The wall at Abner’s was adorned with Drexel memorabilia. As you can see from the sign above and much to my surprise, Drexel is not part of the Big Five (otherwise it would be known as the Big Six).  I had to research this and came upon the following article giving a good history of the Big Five – http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~dsodacp/about/bigfive.html.

Basically, Drexel does not share the history of the other schools. Also, it has become increasingly difficult to schedule non league opponents given the plethora of tournaments and increasing demands from leagues to increase their inter league play. Drexel is on friendly terms with the other schools and does play them on a regular basis.

The Palestra is a couple of blocks away from Drexel so it makes for a great weekend of basketball should they both be playing at home.

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So this has to win the “coolest” entrance so far in my journey. The dragon eyes for the Drexel Dragons greet you as you make your way into the arena. As the Drexel team was introduced, two steam spouts blew behind the bench simulating a dragon’s breath. These were very cool special effects!

During the pre-game warm ups, the band, dance team and  some random fans gathered around the Drexel team. They all did a group cheer and wished the team well. That was the first time I have seen that done.

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The arena was sparse this evening of fans. Perhaps because the students were on break but I did not sense an excitement from the fans about the program.  I will give kudos to the pep band for providing some encouraging sounds throughout the night.

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I try to include the opening tip in all my blog posts. It is rare when I can time it with my crappy Apple 5S to capture both hands tipping the ball at the same time.

I spring for courtside seats when the price is reasonable which happens with small schools like Drexel. Although the view was great, there were times when I wanted to tell the referee to move out of the way.

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Brian came up with a great observation during the game. He found out that Elon player Steven Santa Anna made national headlines last year for being tripped by Grayson Allen. The incident led a national shaming for Allen who followed up with a tearful apology. Santa Anna was clearly the best player for Elon tonight and is leading his team in scoring this year.

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This game marks another milestone in the journey as all the Philly schools are now checked off.

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Next game: Savannah State at Coppin State 01/05/18