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

 

 

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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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Rice (75) at Southern Mississippi (86) 01/18/18

55 out of 351   15% complete

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This game was an added bonus on the Mississippi trip. Our plane was scheduled due to leave Wednesday night but due to bad weather up and down the East coast, our flights were canceled 5 times to an eventual departure Friday morning. As we pondered our fate Thursday morning, I had one of those “just for the hell of it” moments and checked to see if there were any games in the area going on Thursday night. That’s how we ended up be in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.

The Reed Green Coliseum was built in 1965 and modernized over the years to a certain degree. My first impression walking in was that we were inside Space Mountain in Disneyland. The roof tiles needed a good cleaning and it had the 1960’s look to it. This was my kind of arena.  Old arenas and me have a certain affinity.

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Check out these wooden benches which date back to the original build. You can almost see the ghosts of fans cheering for Clarence Weatherspoon back in 1992. He is now an assistant coach on the team along with his player son.

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The crowd was sparse tonight guessing due to the cold weather by Mississippi’s standard. Other than the pep band, there was not much noise happening in this place tonight. I tend to notice little events going on in the game that sometimes result in coaches going off on a player. Dominic McGee on a drive to the hoops was complaining to the ref that he was fouled. Meanwhile, his man on Rice was running down the court making an easy layup. I saw the coaches talking to each other. It happened a second time. The coach calls a time out and gets in McGee’s face. When he is done, 6′ 6″ Clarence Weatherspoon who has expanded sideways over the years takes over and repeats the demonstrative head bopping discussion with McGee. The poor kid did not know what hit him.

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I also like to point out unique traditions as I travel on my journey. See the man above in the white shirt. When the Jaguars score a three point shot, he gets up and waves the “3” sign back and forth and puts it on the row of chairs. When he ran out of chairs, he just started over again. I am hoping that this job is not the only reason he gets up in the morning for.

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Rice is considered to be a IVY league type of school in the Southwest. The Owls last made March Madness in 1970 losing to New Mexico State in the first round. They don’t get the athletes to compete but probably serve a better purpose in society providing scientists and engineers to help make the world a better place.

I was impressed with LaDavius Darine of Southern Mississippi. This freshman was built like a senior and displayed a deft scoring touch throughout the game. He averaged over 30 points a game in high school. At 6′ 4″ and weighing 215, he must have been a load back in Calhoun City, Mississippi.

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Once again, I present the obligatory picture of the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagle mascot.

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Goodbye Mississippi till next year! Your snow and ice this trip did no good in my mind as a possible retirement home.

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Next game: Garner-Webb at UNC Asheville 01/24/18

Vanderbilt (62) at Mississippi State (80) 01/16/2018

54 of 351  15% complete

The state of Mississippi was hit with snow and ice the day before the game. As a result, the campus was closed down but the game was still on. By Connecticut standards, the storm was nothing to be worried about but the rare occurrence of snow and ice in Mississippi causes havoc to residents not used to this type of weather. Tony and I had planned to golf on the Mississippi State campus before the game but that was not to happen. We had a whole day to go kill. So after a beer and wings at the STAGgerIN Sports Grill adorned with much Bulldog memorabilia, we drove around the MSU campus. It was a beautiful campus with new buildings and a baseball stadium under construction.

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So as I said in an earlier post, I have learned that it pays to mention the Operation 351 journey to whoever would listen. As we waited for the doors to open, I struck up a conversation with a couple who were season tickets holders. I told them my story and about my love for UCONN. Their women’s team upset UCONN last year but they were very complimentary of Geno and how he handled the loss.  The doors opened and we went our separate ways to our seats.  As you can see above, free t shirts were to be given out to all the lower level seat holders. Because the campus was closed, it was decided to offer free general admission to everyone. Naturally, I had already bought and paid for the tickets. I am also learning that it may not be a good idea ahead of time to buy tickets in advance unless absolutely necessary.

After five minutes, a gentleman comes over and introduces himself as the assistant athletic director.  He was told about Operation 351 and wanted to give us a tour of the arena. I looked up across the arena and there is the couple waving to me.  This was Mississippi hospitality at its best. After a 15 minute tour of the facilities including a discussion about the new baseball field, we were back at our seats. After the game, a beat writer stopped by and asked a few questions about Operation 351.

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We had our picture taken on the court before the game. Tony on the left and me on the right were very appreciative of the efforts to make us feel at home. Suffice it to say that I am now a Bulldog fan for life. Hail State!

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The crowd was sparse due to the weather but the students with with no classes and free admission took full advantage and did fill the student section. Vanderbilt was missing a key player Matthew Fisher-Davis and was outplayed by the Bulldogs most of the game. Bryce Drew the Vanderbilt coach looked younger than some of this players.

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It was good to see Ben Howland as the MSU coach. I have memories of him in the old Big East as the Pittsburgh coach. He has won everywhere he went.

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Although many UCONN fans were stung by the women’ loss to MSU last year, I also remember the painful loss to MSU by the men in 1996. UCONN was the number one seed lead by Ray Allen. We were heavily favored and projected to go to our first final four. The above banner triggers the memory of that painful loss.

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Aric Holman from MSU was the player of the game. He is an agile 6′ 10″ forward who is the team’s best three point shooter. This Kentucky native somehow slipped under Calipari’s grasp but is doing well for the Bulldogs.

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The mascot wins the award for the biggest head during the Operation 351 tour. That is all for now.

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Next game : Rice at Southern Mississippi 01/18/18

Southern (78) at Mississippi Valley State (70) OT 01/15/18

53 of 351  15% complete

This was the first of three games on the Mississippi trip. After a round of golf the day before, I was ready for some hoops.

Mississippi Valley State resides in the western part of the state known as the delta. The Mississippi River is just a few miles west of the campus. The surrounding land is flat and open. We stayed overnight in Greenwood which advertises itself as the “Cotton Capital of the World”. I am making the assumption that this is a poor area of the state by the simple fact that there were no chain or local restaurants along the main road near campus (places like Chili’s, Outback, Applebees, etc.). After the game, we could not find an open bar and pub to eat. We settled for SONIC as the best choice among the fast food places open.

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I have learned along this journey that it is okay to chat up Operation 351 to anyone who you think might be interested. I will give you an example here and one later in the Mississippi State blog post.

We are in the hotel elevator before the game heading to our room. With us is a tall man dressed in a Southern University looking outfit. It turns out that the visiting Southern team was staying in our hotel. I told the gentleman my mission story. He was an assistant coach and offered us free tickets to the game. As he put it, “No one from Baton Rouge is coming up here to see us. We need all the help we can get”. More on that later.

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The pep band provided ample entertainment before the game. Many of the band members were rap dancing in the aisle to the rap music provided by a DJ. MVSU wins hands down as the best pep band to date. The drum line was loud and impressive along with the twerking dance team.

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So let’s paint a picture here. My friend Tony accompanied me on the three Mississippi games this trip. He owns a second home in Madison and provided a home base for our trips.  Tony and I felt indebted to the Southern coach who provided us the free tickets. But here was the problem. Tony and I were the only Caucasians in the crowd except for a couple of team managers. I am okay with that. There were no problems. Everyone was super nice to us. However to stand up and cheer for Southern when literally no one in the crowd was a Southern fan just felt like it would bring some unwanted attention to us.

MVSU’s record was 0-17 going into this game. They were one of six schools that were winless so far this season. I also contemplated rushing the court with the MVSU fans if they broke their losing streak. Again I could just hear the comments on the ESPN Sport Center replay with us sticking out like a sore thumb on the court.

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This was my first overtime game in Operation 351. I really wanted MVSU to win but they fell short in the end. My player of the game goes to MVSU Jordan Evans who scored 41 points. MVSU would have won if he touched the ball every time. TRIVIA – Jerry Rice attended MVSU.

I was so impressed with the band that I bought a raffle ticket for a TV  to benefit the band but found out later it was for the benefit of the dance team. Figuring out how to get a TV from Mississippi to Connecticut would be a nice problem to have.

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Next game : Vanderbilt at Mississippi State 01/16/18

South Carolina State (63) at Delaware State (60) 01/06/18

#52 of 351   14% complete

I stayed overnight at my cousin Brian’s house who lives about 45 miles west of Philadelphia. Brain accompanied me to this game which is his first in Operation 351. He is a sports aficionado and volunteered to serve up his home as the alpha base for all future games in Pennsylvania. Welcome aboard Brian!

Delaware State is across the street from the Dover Raceway which hosts NASCAR events.
As you can tell, we were not quite sure if this was the entrance to the arena.

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This was my first visit to a primarily black populated school. I did expect to see a rousing pep band with an energetic cheer and dance leading squad. Sadly, there was none of that tonight. There was also not much of a student section represented either. However, what made up for it all were the adults probably most of them parents from both sides dancing and cheering on their teams. There was a gentleman from Delaware State working really hard to get the crowd involved.

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As someone said on Twitter after I posted a picture, “Yikes that’s a Div 1 gym?”. I replied that I have seen smaller like St. Francis of Brooklyn.  Both teams have horrible win and loss records but it was one exciting game. As I told Brian afterwards, this particular game does not warrant a speck on the college basketball universe but in itself, it was a very exciting game to watch between two evenly matched teams. I was very glad to have witnessed this event.

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Yes there is one Caucasian ball player on the court. His name is Artem Tavakalyan #34 from Moscow Russia. I wonder if he knew when he signed up that that he was playing on a …. never mind. He is the leading scorer for Delaware State but you have to wonder about the dynamics of a Russian playing with a black college team.

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Both of these teams play in the Mid Eastern Athletic Conference joining other black colleges like Hampton and Morgan State from the mid Atlantic region.

So here is the exciting part! The score is tied at 60 with 10 seconds left. South Carolina State in bounds the ball.  Senior guard Patrell Rogers races down the sideline and launches a side leaning 30 foot three point shot to win the game. The Hornet fans were in a state of shock. It was a fitting end to a hard fought game from both sides.

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That’s a South Carolina State proud mother celebrating!

Next game:  Southern at Mississippi Valley State         01/15/18

William & Mary (90) at Delaware (65) 01/05/2018

#51 of 351   14% complete

After a disappointing cancellation of my two Buffalo area games (Buffalo and Niagara) in December due to snow, I was eager to get back on the Operation 351 saddle.  My travels today involved a 4 hour ride from Connecticut to Newark, Delaware home of the Delaware Blue Hens.

 

Do not ever mispronounce Newark to a native Newark resident in Delaware. The correct pronunciation is NewARK with the emphasis on the second syllable.  There should never be any association with their dirty cousins from New Jersey.  If you want anymore information on what a Delaware Blue Hen looks like, here you go: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_Blue_Hen.

After a unhealthy plate of wings and beer at Tailgaters, I was off to see the my first game of the new year. Walking from the parking lot to the front door in below zero weather revived me from the long drive from the north.

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Let me state that Delaware’s arena, cheer leaders, the dance team and the pep band were top notch. The team was not this night. William & Mary is damn good and not a team that I would like to face in March.  They rank 6th nationally in 3 pointers made (11.5) and average 87 points a game ranking 14th. They lead the nation in three point percentage (46.2) and rank 2nd in free throw percentage (80.6). The Blue Hens never stood a chance.

But let’s talk about what I view as the stupidest half time game witnessed by yours truly since his mission began. I will call it the Burrito game for lack of a better name. Each contestant was giving a silver tarp and 5 different colored pom poms. Each color represented an item that you would put in a burrito. For example, the green pom pom would represent lettuce. Each contestant had to run back and forth to the poms poms and place it in the silver tarp (the burrito). The first one to complete this task was the winner. Mind you, I had no idea what was going on during this contest. I asked a student later on who filled me in on the details. It was one of those “Seriously?” moments.

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I love college traditions during a game and keep a lookout for one with each visit.  When a Delaware player would shoot a foul shot, someone in the pep band would yell before hand in a loud voice “Hands up!”.  The pep band and cheerleaders would raise their hands. Now this is nothing new but it was the authoritative voice of this gentleman that gave it some class. I could imagine that being chosen for this special honor is a long time Delaware tradition passed down through the ages.

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I was impressed with two players from William & Mary. Nathan Knight a big 6’10” forward was unstoppable underneath with 25 points and provided a good foil to the Tribe’s torrent three point shooting. He is from the Syracuse area so I was wondering how the Cuse missed on this guy. Matt Milon was on fire from three point land. He was a transfer from Boston College where he only averaged 5 points a game. He could not miss tonight and finished with 22 points.

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That was a terrible final shot of the scoreboard. W&M 90 Delaware 65.

Next Game: South Carolina State at Delaware State                          01/06/18