Colgate (80) vs. Loyola MD (84) 02/16/2020

Game #95 of 353 26% complete

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The campus of Loyola features many Gothic buildings located in a residential neighborhood of northern Baltimore. The basketball arena is situated in a huge athletic center. You need to walk through an inviting food court before proceeding upstairs to the arena. I was very impressed by the four digital scoreboards situated around the four corners of the court. I was confused by the senior graduating ceremony for the players and cheerleaders because there are two remaining home games left. Nevertheless, it is always a heartwarming sight to see the parents and family escort the seniors through the lined up players and cheerleaders to receive an award.

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A banner above listed years that Loyola MD were the champions of the Mason Dixon Conference. My curiosity was peeked to say the least. From WIKI, the league is a defunct NCAA Division 2 athletics conference, formed in 1936 and disbanded in 1974. Its members were predominantly from states bordering the Mason Dixon line. Other notable schools over the years included American University, University of Delaware, John Hopkins University, Mount St. Mary’s and UMBC. I guess that being a champion of any conference is worth celebrating but I could go 50/50 on the merits of raising this banner.

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The favored first place Colgate Raiders were upset by the home team Greyhounds despite the Raiders winning earlier in the year by 22 points. I was very impressed with the Greyhound freshman center Santi Aldama who hit three jumpers from the three point line and played strong in the paint. Aldama’s father played for Spain’s 1992 Olympic team. Santi was named the MVP of U-18 European championship in 2019 leading Spain to the gold medal. Aldama was a four-star prospect and rated the No. 61 overall recruit in the 2019 class, according to the 247 Sports Composite rankings. A knee injury at the beginning of the season sidelined him but he is back at full strength. I tried to find the answer to the obvious question: why did he choose Loyola MD?

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I finished the night eating at the Birroteca restaurant bar and watching my Uconn Huskies pull out an exciting win over Memphis with a sad note pulling for Akok Akok to recover from his torn Achilles. I will be back in Baltimore next year to see Morgan State and Towson to complete all the schools in Maryland.

It was long weekend that included a 2 hour stop today at the Baltimore Zoo. The lion sleeps tonight and so will I!

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Next game: LSU at Georgia 03/07/2020

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Boston University (77) vs. Navy (54) 02/16/2020

Game #94 out of 353   26% complete

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The 6 hour train ride from Connecticut went fast as I caught up on reading and surveying the urban blight of America from my window. With help from my wife dropping me off at a nearby train station,  I saved myself from the usual airport hassles. Yes it takes many more hours to get there but a late day afternoon game (4PM) and an early train makes it possible to take Operation 351 on a more leisurely pace. Adding in a shuttle from the train station to the airport and another shuttle from the airport to the car rental facility takes the idea of leisure to a new level.

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My fellow basketball traveler Greg provided me with a guide to visiting the Navy campus. The guide stated that you need to park in the football stadium for a $5 fee and present your driver’s license as proof of identity. As I approached the stadium parking lot, there was not attendant in the booth so I went ahead and parked. I boarded a school bus for a 5 minute trip to Alumni Hall. I looked around again for some authoritarian person to present my license to but none were in sight. I entered Alumni Hall wondering if I breached security at the hallowed training grounds for the Navy. After the game, I thought of walking the grounds to take pictures of the impressive buildings but I feared that I had already pushed my luck.

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The ride to Alumni hall was entertaining seeing various fighter jets placed throughout the grounds. Many of the buildings were off limits guarded with metal gates and concrete barriers. As I walked into the arena, I witnessed a presentation by two naval cadets addressing about 30 young kids sitting on stairs answering questions. One kid asked if you can have another job besides being in the Navy. The cadet earnestly answered that the dedication required to be in the Navy is all consuming and that a naval cadet would just not have time for two jobs. I almost hung around to hear the other questions. I am sure there were some funny ones.

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Knowing that football is king at Navy and basketball is the ugly step sister, I was very impressed with Alumni Hall. The modern facility was half full but had padded seats and great sight lines to the court. I was surprised with the lack of cheerleaders and naval cadets.  I pictured a large contingent of cadets cheering like they do in the Army/ Navy football game. My interest peaked when I heard that T shirts would be tossed to the crowd after every three pointer. My hopes were dashed because I saw a three year old in the aisle next to me playing with his toy truck. How can I grab a t shirt headed for this kid and not give it to him? Fortunately, no T shirt ever came close to me.

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Boston University completely dominated Navy throughout the entire game. I was amazed to see that Navy had defeated the Terriers in OT back in January. Currently in second place behind Colgate, the Terriers were impressive with Connecticut natives Walter Whyte and Jonas Harper along with Max Maloney keeping the Midshipmen a comfortable distance apart in the score.

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I had another first at the game. After the game, the crowd was asked to stand for the “Blue and Gold” song. I thought it was just another alma mater song for which I never stand but the entire crowd stood. There were many Navy veterans around me singing the words. The Navy team shouted “Beat Army” at the end of the song . This alma mater has a much deeper meaning for the Navy cadets and veterans.

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Next Game: Colgate at Loyola MD 02/16/2020

 

Morgan State (56) vs. Maryland Eastern Shore (50) 01/27/2020

2020-01-27 19.49.07The trip from D.C. to Maryland Eastern Shore took almost 3 hours. MES is one of those outlier schools that makes it difficult to do a multiple game trip.  I did pair MES with George Mason which was the best I could do.  I did look into doing MES with one of the Virginia schools but the schedule was not promising.

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I am very OCD when it comes to accomplishments on my journey. Back to the old days of Sport Passport, you were given virtual badges for completing all the schools in the state or a given league. I eagerly aim for my own badges now so my goal of completing Maryland will be reached next year. I plan to do Loyola MD and Navy this year. Next year, I will finish with Towson and Morgan State. Maryland will be complete satisfying my accomplishment ego. I say all this to justify my endless trip to the bowels of southern Maryland to see MES.

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I usually rent a car with each trip preferring the flexibility and freedom vs. depending on UBER or mass transit. As a car owner who does not like cars, I tend to keep a car for a long time ’til it falls apart. So with each car rental, I come across a “new” car feature that provides some getting used to. The GMC Terrain had the following:

  1. The shifts were buttons on the dash.
  2. The high beams went on and off automatically. When they first went on, I frantically wondered what I did to turn them on and tried in vain to turn them off which they did on their own.
  3. A red light would buzz and flash from the top of the dashboard warning me of something. I believe that it has to do with a warning about a pedestrian crossing but it also occurred going under a light at an intersection. I thought the engine was going to blow when the red light first flashed on.

The game was back and forth till Morgan State pulled it out on the end. The run and gun offense from both sides made this an exciting game to watch with ESPN highlight dunks and blocks galore. Poor MES fell to 2-19 for the season.

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Morgan State had the player’s names on the back of their uniform. This was a first for me to the point where I had always thought that the NCAA had banned names altogether. I am guessing coaches usually frown on this because they want a player to identify with a team not with himself.

The Hytche Athletic Center is one of those multi use facilities where the basketball court is plopped in the middle.  The place was huge with racquetball courts on one side and a museum and a fan store on the other side. I was thinking what a tremendous waste of energy it must take to keep this place warm.

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Next Game: Rhode Island at George Mason 01/28/2020

Bryant (76) vs. Mount Saint Mary (79) 01/25/2020

Game #88 out of 353      24% complete

My nephew Eric is enrolled at Mount Saint Mary’s seminary. My wife and I combined a visit to him with a basketball game.  After a one-hour ride from Dulles, we were given a tour by Eric of the impressive grounds. The seminary was originally constructed in 1808 and is home to the seminarians for housing and classrooms.

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There is a very cool story about the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes which is tucked up on a hill behind the school. As you can see below, the statue of Mary makes an impressive sight. Many Catholics from around the world make the pilgrimage to the grotto. It is not uncommon to see visitors fill 5-gallon jugs from the spring water available to the public. For years, floodlights had lit the campanile (statue of Mary) until the Grotto staff decided to save some money by turning them off. Soon after, a government agent contacted Mt. St. Mary University requesting that the lights go back on. Pilots flying into nearby Camp David needed the illuminated campanile to guide them. I always thought Camp David was nearer D.C. but it is very close to the  Emmitsburg, MD campus.

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I saw this pennant in the arena. I do believe a disclaimer should be put on the banner stating that this is Division 2 basketball.

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I have a pet peeve about scoreboards. I believe that they should always show the current point total of the players in the game. There was a Bryant player Juan Cardenas averaging 4 points a game who was lighting it up. He ended up with 20 points but I had no clue how well he was doing.

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Kudos to the home crowd of the Mountaineers! They were loud and into the game the whole way. The game went down to the last minute with the Mountaineers pulling it out.

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We had breakfast before heading out at Bollinger’s in nearby Thurmont, MD. I purposely go for these old family restaurants over the chain places. I had an excellent bacon & egg sandwich. My wife loved her eggs, bacon and home fries. Our friendly waitress made for an enjoyable experience . We sat near a fire which reflected out the window into the windshield of our car. I did a double take thinking our car was on fire.

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I leave you with a beautiful sunrise from the Mount Saint Mary campus.

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Next Game: Morgan State at Maryland Eastern Shore 01/27/2020

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

 

 

 

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