Valparaiso (66) vs. Missouri State (84) 02/12/2022

Game #105 of 358 29% complete

So why is he in Missouri now? My daughter and husband along with my grandson moved from Manhattan to Joplin for a career move. What better way to visit than to go to an Operation351 game on my visits to see the family!

As I walked up to the stadium, I saw a statue of a woman basketball player which a first for me. Jackie Stiles was the darling of college basketball in 2001. She led Southwest Missouri State (the old name) to a 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. The Bears made it to the final four eventually succumbing to Purdue in the semifinal game. Unfortunately, her pro career fizzled after numerous injuries including 13 surgeries. In her brief time in Camelot, she was a superstar bringing big time notoriety to a small school in the Midwest.

I was very impressed with the JQH arena. Spacious and modern looking, I was surprised to see such a sleek place for a small school like MSU. One feature that I liked and have not seen before was a digital scoreboard at the scorer’s table thus saving the old necks from continuously looking up at the scoreboard.

Isiaih Mosley finished the game with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting. I was looking up on my phone to see if he was related to Mosley brothers from UCLA. A man in front overheard me mumbling and stated that they were not related. He did say that Mosely will wear an NBA uniform in the future. He was smooth and an excellent shooter. It could happen.

I am all for free swag tossed into the audience by the cheerleaders. Free shirts with a team logo are cool in my book. During this game, the cheerleaders tossed capes into the crowd. Capes? Where are you going to wear a cape?

The ride from Joplin to Jefferson took about an hour. Beforehand, my son in law, John, took me on a brief tour of the city. As you may know, the city of Joplin was pulverized by a tornado in 2011. 158 people were killed and some 1,150 were injured. I asked to see where the tornado had landed in the city. The path today can be determined by the path of new buildings and the absence of trees in a mile wide path through the busy downtown area as you can see below. Their new house has a safe room surrounded by steel should this ever happen again.

I am closing this season out for Operation 351. Due to family obligations and a new kitchen occupying my time, I am unable to take any more trip this season although I will be attending a couple of UConn home games.

Best of health to all! See you next season!

Iowa (86) vs. Penn State (90) 2OT 01/30/2022

Game #104 of 358 29% complete

After waiting years so that I could get Bucknell and neighbor Penn State playing back-to-back, I am finally here. I spent a little time walking the impressive campus and looking like an old professor among the bustle of college kids heading to classes on this Monday afternoon.

I had a difficult time finding a sports bar and restaurant open along the College Ave. The recommendations from my cousin Brian who is a Penn State alumnus were for closed businesses unbeknownst to him. I ended up downing a burger and fries at Mr. Bistro. I was not sure if the dearth of restaurants open was due to COVID or because it was Monday night.

What write up about Penn state would not be complete unless it had a picture of the famous Nittany Lions football stadium which was right next to the basketball arena.

So on to what has been the most exciting game so far in my journey. A double OT win by the underdog Penn State team was a major B10 battle to say the least. Iowa’s Keegan Murray’s miracle tip in sent the game into the first overtime. Penn State’s Myles Dread hit a 3 pointer with nine seconds left to send it into the second over time.

The many empty seats shows that Penn State basketball is a stepchild to the football team. However, the student section was very active and vocal throughout the game.

I was especially looking forward to seeing Keegan Murray play for Iowa. As one of the leading scorers in college basketball season this year, he is a future NBA player. Penn State held him in check tonight with Murray showing outward signs of frustrations at times. He has a smooth jump shot but I don’t see the aggressiveness and leadership displayed tonight that would make my Knicks want to draft him. His passivity out there tonight would raise a red flag in my opinion.

So here is a first for me. Iowa has two brothers Patrick and Connor McCaffery playing for their father Fran McCaffery who is a coach. The team also has two other brothers Keegan and Kris Murray. I can’t imagine as a father coaching your own kids in a high pressure Big 10 league barnburner. When they make a mistake, does the coach feels bad for his son or does he want to wring his neck?

Connor McCaffery had 4 three pointers in the first half but had to leave late in the game because of a separated shoulder incurred from a scramble of a loose ball. He came back to watch the overtimes with an ice pack and harness around his shoulder.

The Bryce Jordan arena also serves as home for musical acts. They have a wall set up where each performer leaves a personal message along with their picture. The above is just a small section of the hundreds displayed in the arena hallway.

In all my excitement about the amazing ending to the game, I neglected to take my traditional picture of the final score on the scoreboard.

I must comment on a couple of side trips before the game.

I visited the Little League World Series stadium in Williamsport. Having watched the series since I was a youngster, curiosity got the best of me. Unfortunately, the museum was closed but I took a picture of the snow-covered iconic field. I can picture the kids sliding down the hill behind the outfield during the game.

I also visited Reptile World in Lewisburg to look at snakes, alligators, frogs and birds. I captured this reaction from these owls when I told them about my Journey to 351 mission.

On to Missouri State!

Loyola MD (80) vs. Bucknell (82) 01/30/2022

Game #103 of 358 29% complete

This was my first game back after a long layoff from my last game on December 12th. I had trips to Michigan and Wisconsin planned for the month of January. The news of canceled games was happening so frequently, it caused me to put a temporary hiatus to my journey. As it turned out, the majority of the planned games in January did get canceled. I cannot imagine flying somewhere, getting a hotel room and waking up to find the game is canceled. Because the two PA schools were within driving distance, I was able to do a 4-hour drive to Pennsylvania from Connecticut after waiting ’til the last minute to ensure that the games would be held.

The Loyola players (men and woman) stayed at my hotel, but they were checking out just as I was checking in. The trip was extra special because my cousin Brian who lives near Philadelphia joined me for this game after a 2-hour ride from his home. It was great to catch up with him after two years when we went to a game together at Delaware State. Brian is my official backup to Operation 351 should I meet the great basketball god in the sky before the mission is accomplished.

The arena was mostly empty which is a shame because it turned out to be a thriller right to the end. A girl’s dance school performed at half time. Once that was over, half the arena emptied out because the parents who only cared about the dance went home.

I have seen many contests during time outs over the years. Here was a first for me. The woman is sling shotting a rubber chicken across the court to her partner who is trying to catch the chicken in a bucket. They did get 3 out of four so kudos to them. The other stupid contest was a trivia contest between two teen age girls. They were asked very difficult trivia questions about Bucknell basketball that only a sports information director may know. They looked at each other after every question with ” How the hell would I know that” look. Fortunately, it was a multiple choice (A, B, or C) answer so they did get some correct with a little luck.

My only recollection of Bucknell basketball is their stunning upset of Kansas on March 18th, 2005. The 14th seeded Bisons won with Chris Mc Naughton’s┬ájump-hook in the lane with 10.5 seconds over Kansas’s Wayne Simien winning 64-63. The arena was filled with many memorabilia and hopefully this attractive place gets more fans in the future.

Kudos to Bucknell player Andrew Funk who was unstoppable most of the evening as he scored 34 points from all areas of the floor. For a final note of trivia, my cousin Brian noted that a successful foul shot by a Bison player elicited a note resembling Mario popping a coin out of a box. I will have to take his word on this one.

If you are looking for a good burger, visit Matty’s Sporthouse in Lewisburg.

On to Penn State tomorrow!