Congratulations to Stonehill College for making the move to Division 1 this year. I have seen this before with other schools making the move. The arena is the size of a high school gym. The sound system needs to be upgraded to be understood. The concessions were run by students at a small table offering candy and a popcorn machine that could not keep up. However, given the exuberance of the students at the game cheering and the solid past history of Stonehill basketball, I am confident that the future bodes well for the Seahawk program.
Although both teams played hard, the poor play by both teams resulted in a 23 -15 halftime score that made it a difficult game to watch. My mood was boosted at the beginning of the second half after hearing the entrance song for Edwin Diaz of the Mets – “Narco” by Timmy Trumpet blaring over the sound system.
I do hate backtracking during my journey. I was done with Massachusetts and New England at one point, but Stonehill’s move to Division 1 necessitated a 2-hour ride to Easton, MA from my Connecticut home. The name “Operation 351” was derived from the 351 schools in Division 1 in 2015. We are now at 362 with Hartford dropping out this year.
Kudos to Seahawk forward Andrew Sims who scored 30 points in a variety of ways. He hit 9 out of 10 from the field and converted 10 of 12 free throws. His last second hand-in-the-face three-point shot put the game on ice for Stonehill in the final minute. His elevation on jump shots was impressive. He stood out this afternoon as the MVP of the game.
Stonehill is now tied with Merrimack for first place in the Northeastern Conference standings. Stonehill began competition in the NEC in the Fall of 2022 and will become a full member of the Conference in 2026-27 upon completion of its four-year NCAA Division I reclassification period.
One of the few disconcerting parts of this journey is the moving target towards the final goal. It is especially disheartening when you have an accomplishment that goes awry because a school decides to go to Division 1. I had all the New England states complete till Merrimack made the move to Division 1 this year. The hole in my accomplishment ego was too much to bear so I made the trip to Andover, Massachusetts to re-accomplish my goal. My rule of adding new Division 1 schools to my list over the course of my journey includes schools moving up the ladder to D1. Conversely, I will not be visiting Savannah State since they dropped to D2. So an interesting scenario comes to mind. What if I visit a school then they drop out of D1? Do I pull it out of the blog or sequester it to a separate part of the blog with a special notation? I will cross that bridge when I have to.
The away opponent Long Island University also brought up a special situation. I had visited LIU Brooklyn in February of 2017. Since then, the LIU Post campus (a D2 school) merged with LIU Brooklyn (the D1 school). Do I consider this a new school requiring a new visit? Since my mission states that my mission is to visit every D1 campus to see a game (except when there is no campus arena like Georgetown), I have satisfied this requirement with LIU. This rule holds true even if a new arena is built on campus. I do not go back to visit new arena where I have previously visited. My journey, my rules!
I went in the worn entrance to Merrimack athletic center and had to walk through the hockey rink to get to the basketball arena. The Merrimack hockey program has been a national power for years. Quinnipiac and Merrimack are the only two schools I have visited that have a building sharing a hockey rink and basketball courts as separate facilities under one roof. On a side note, the new UCONN hockey arena holding an insufficient seating capacity of 2500 seats should be ditched and a new building holding a basketball and hockey arena would make more sense. Sorry for the digression but perhaps some UCONN official is reading this.
I am sure that there are financial shortcuts needed when first transitioning from a D2 school to a D1 school. That was evident watching the audio/visual set on display during the warmups. When the Merrimack starting line up was introduced, the lights went out and the recorded music started blaring. There was a person in the corner of the court with a small single spotlight attempting to make circles with it as he pointed the light towards the starting players as they were introduced. You would catch a face here and there as each player was introduced. After seeing some pretty cool laser and light shows throughout the journey, Merrimack should look to upgrade its warm up show.
Congratulations to Merrimack in their first year of D1 basketball! They are currently in first place in the NEC league with an 8-1 record including an impressive road at Northwestern. I was impressed with their stifling zone defense that gave LIU fits all afternoon long. The place was filled with loud fans with many waiting at the door to come in during the time outs. Head coach Joe Gallo ( yeah I thought of My Cousin Vinny too) is in his fourth year with an impressive 75-42 record.
After multiple attempts over the past three years, I finally made it to Northeastern. Storms and pressing family events made for multiple cancellations. This trip will complete the journey through all six New England states. Mathews Arena built in 1910 is the oldest indoor ice hockey arena still being used for hockey — and is the oldest multi-purpose athletic building still in use in the world .
If you come to see a game here, please be advised to eat elsewhere and not in the arena. I bought a chicken sandwich and fries at the concession stand. It has my vote for the worst arena food in Operation 351 so far. But the place has a certain ambiance that old arenas have. Seeing the radiators in the hall reminded me of an antique old house with the ghosts who played in this arena.
As a UCONN Husky fan, it was weird to hear cheers for the Huskys. Washington, Northern Illinois and Houston Baptist are the other clubs in Division 1 sharing the Husky mascot.
The game started out well for UNCW in the first half but Northeastern took over in the second half. They could not quite put the UNCW Seahawks away. A banked in three point shot at the buzzer by the Seahawks sent the game into overtime. Anyone else impressed with the Seahawks colors?
I was very impressed with Northeastern freshman forward Tomas Murphy. The 6’9″ forward from Rhode Island showed a deft touch underneath with a variety of moves. He’s following older brothers Erik (Florida) and Alex (Duke/Florida) to college basketball. The Huskys showed crisp passing and great outside shooting from Vasa Pusica a 6’5″ sharpshooter from Serbia.
Here is the final shot of the scoreboard which was blurry the entire game.
I was accompanied on this doubleheader day by my cousin Mike who loves all sports. We headed over to the Heat/Celtics game after this one. Before the game, we met up with Greg and Ryan who are fellow Basketball Passporters and rabid Boston U. fans. The brothers graduated from Boston University in 2013 and attend every home BU game. Greg reached out to me via the Passport web site so we decided to head to the Sunset Cantina before the game to talk about what else college basketball and specifically his beloved Terriers.
Boston U was missing four starters today through injuries but needed this game to host the first Patriot league tourney game. I was given the lowdown of the Terriers by Greg and Ryan. They have a strong passion for their team which hits home for me. They have also done a little traveling trying to bring up their Passport numbers. I found out that the BU head coach Joe Jones is the brother of the Yale head coach. I learned that center Blaise Mbargorba from Cameroon like many African transplants played almost no basketball growing up but was good at soccer. Amidah Brimah of UConn has the same story. Greg and Ryan left early to catch the senior ceremony but it was great to talk college BB with fellow fanatics. Thanks to Greg and Ryan for their hospitality! I never root for a team on my travels but in this case I was a Terrier fan for the day.
Case Arena was your typical small arena that I have come across in my journey. However, this was the first small arena where every seat was a chair back. We also had to climb a few flights of stairs because the arena is on top of the building.
The pep band was loud. The crowd was very enthusiastic. John Papale was one of the seniors who put on a great shooting display. I came to learn later on that he was named on of the top 25 3-point shooters in the country by ESPN.
I was impressed with the play of previously mentioned 6′ 11″ B.U. center Blaise Mbargorba. He look very polished and comfortable with outstanding footwork and a soft touch. He is a junior so I will keep an eye on him next year.
So here is my meaningless rant for the day. When the cheerleaders throw T-shirts in the crowd, can they sometimes climb the stairs and reach some of the folks who are sitting up higher up? Now I don’t really want a T-shirt but I witnessed a little boy in the arms of his father who was crying because the shirts were never thrown close to him. You could make the case that the father should teach the boy that life is very hard and to get a grip. Had I caught one, I would have given it to him.
Despite being short handed, the Terriers went on for a victory over the Crusaders. Boston U. fans await the Patriot tourney because winning it all is their only hope of making the NCAA dance. Hey Greg and Ryan — I will be rooting for you!
Seeing the statue of Bob Cousy in front of the gym and looking through the trophies and plaques in the lobby, one is reminded of the glory days of Holy Cross basketball where they were the premier New England basketball team in the forties and fifties.
Army was missing their top scorer Tanner Plomb so I expected a close game which it was. Looking at the trim and fit Army players, you wonder how anyone could keep with them but this a basketball game not a boot camp training exercise. Holy Cross players were quicker led by freshman Karl Charles and junior Malachi Alexander. They consistently drove the range invoking fouls with their quick slashing movements.
There were no cheerleaders, pep band or loud student section. But as always in these small gyms, there is one very loud older fan doing his best to urge his Crusaders on. His constant chant of “defense” rang through out the arena.
The head coach for Holy Cross is Bill Carmody who coached Northwestern for many years and spent four years at Princeton. I always wonder how coaches for teams like Holy Cross spin their recruiting talks. Holy Cross is an excellent academic school so I guess you would start there but playing for sparse crowds in the Patriot league must be a tough sell.
I was accompanied by my friend Tony “Doc” Priore who recently retired. I was glad to give him a close exciting game to watch. He is older than me and appreciates the old days of college basketball like myself.
For anyone attending a Holy Cross game, be sure to check out the Brew City Grille. I had their signature hamburger with dozens of choices for a brew.
Be sure to check out the view of Worcester from the arena. Being that Holy Cross is on a hill overlooking the city, it is a great view.
I had the pleasure of watching both these clubs on TV because they had UCONN as a common opponent this year. It is true that the level of play rises to the level of competition because both clubs played much better against UCONN than against each other today.
One big advantage of watching games at smaller schools and smaller gyms is that you can sit anywhere. Sitting three rows from the court, you can see the play develop and watch like a basketball coach would. These teams play just as hard as the big boys. You can see the effort and pain on their faces being this close.
As this was an 11AM start, I expected to see very little folks in the stands. As it turns out, the place had a lot of fans being the recipient of multiple high school groups coming into to watch them. It must have been a school holiday in the Boston area.
I was very impressed with Maine freshman Devine Eke a 6’7″ forward from Plainfield, NJ. He seemed to elevate above all others and had the paint to himself. He played well against UCONN and would probably do very well at a higher level.
Kudos to the pep band who actually sounded like a band! They were into the game cheering to the end. UMass-Lowell came back and brought it down to 1 point deficit before Maine went crazy with a barrage of three pointers to put the game away.
So for an off topic moment. I do not like the plush recliner seats that all the theaters are installing for two reasons. One is that they now force the attendee to get there earlier because there are less seats. More importantly, I can NOT stay awake watching a movie in one of these chairs. I went to Chili’s for lunch after the game and had 3 hours to kill before meeting my daughter Kristie ( a grad student at Merrimack) for supper. I spied a Showcase Cinema next door and went into to catch the next available movie. I paid for “The Forest” and went to my reserved seat. I reclined back and before you know it, I was in never never land. The movie was one of those where stuff pops out at unsuspecting characters eliciting a scream. I would wake up at each of these screams with a “where the hell am I” spasm and would end up scaring the couple next to me more so than the movie scream. After a couple episodes like this, the couple apologized and decided to move elsewhere. Call me old fashioned but I want the uncomfortable hard theater seats to keep me awake.
This is the second game of the day for me. It was a short 10 minute car ride from Conte Forum. We had time to kill since we got here early.
We entered Harvard Stadium and walked around the bleachers. The field was covered within an artificial bubble. The bleachers and underneath were pocketed with snow. Given the ancient look of the stadium, it did look like a scene from the the apocalypse. We heard some cheering from afar wondering who the hell would be playing outside in the 30 degree weather.
We ambled over to a lighted scoreboard. There was a women’s lacrosse game with Harvard playing Columbia. The fans were few and far but were very loud. I suspect that most of them were parents of the players.
We did watch for about 15 minutes and noticed one strange event happening after a score. The scorer would put her “racket”on the ground. The ref would inspect it and give it back to her. We asked another spectator about this. The ref has to insure that the racket meets specs before allowing the score. You learn something new every day.
So onto the game. As it turned out, this was a very important win for Harvard. Yale would lose later on that night forcing a playoff for the NCAA dance invitation.
The crowd was energetic with a nice showing by the students. As with B.C, this was senior night. I still get choked up when the parents walk out with their kid thinking about how many times have they watched their son play over the years.
This was a typical Ivy league game with each team making the extra pass. Harvard did that much better and opened up to a big lead in the second half.
Someone started a “Go Dartmouth” chant hoping as they did beat Yale. Yale had beat Harvard the night before on this very floor.
There was a power failure before the game that threatened the game. Fortunately, it was fixed because I would have been very upset driving to Boston for only one game (B.C.).
The game was shown on CBS Sports invoking the wild crazy cheering when the camera was pointed at fans.
Review from Stadium Journeys: http://www.stadiumjourney.com/stadiums/lavietes-pavilion-s713
We had lunch at Eagles’ Deli before the game. This place is an excellent choice for a burger and fries. The owner came over and chatted with us awhile. I told him his place was noted on the Stadium Journeys site. My buddy Andy gets the Godzilla burger unknowingly that it consisted of two slices of humongous meet. I am proud that he downed it but he did feel the afterwards all afternoon burping up burger.
We also took a walk around the neighborhood noticing the cars buried in snow except for an occasional tail light sticking out.
Conte Forum does have an impressive array of plaques , memorabilia and pictures of past great B.C. athletes and teams. They had more than any other arena I’ve seen.
There was absolutely no student presence in the crowd perhaps indicative a 2PM Saturday start. I compare these crowds to the old Big East battles with UCONN. They are like night and day. I miss those days! I just did not sense the passion in the crowd. Being among the perennial bottom dwellers in the ACC may account for this.
Review from Stadium Journey: http://www.stadiumjourney.com/stadiums/silvio-o.-conte-forum-s700