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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Missouri (77) vs. Ole Miss (80) 02/25/17

#47 of 351  13% complete

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Ole Miss is all about football like most of the teams in the SEC. With the exception of Florida and Kentucky, the SEC has had limited success in the March madness world. The Walk of Champions serves as the starting point for the football team as they march towards the football stadium located across from the basketball arena. The grove is full of tailgaters that cheer wildly and celebrate the weekend of football at Ole Miss.

You will see no such sights today at the Ole Miss basketball game. However, I was impressed by the spirit of the crowd. Ole Miss is currently on the bubble and needed a win today against the weaker Missouri Tigers. But first a walk through the campus on this beautiful February day was in order.

 

Oxford is your typical college town that deserves a walk around before the game. The court house is surrounded by small shops and restaurants. I had BBQ chicken  and beans at the Ajax Diner. My two friends who were Ole Miss fans remarked that it was strange seeing the grove completely empty. As we drove in, the street was lined with cars watching an Ole Miss baseball game. A quick note should you ever visit Mississippi: Do not ask for a “grinder”, ask for a “sub”. Do not ask for a Coke. Coke refers to the general term for soda. You will be asked what kind of Coke.

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2017-02-25 15.17.58.jpgThe Pavilion was built in 2016 and is a great arena to watch a basketball game. We sprung for the Pavilion ticket costing $75 which gave us access to a buffet lounge and center court seats. We had unlimited popcorn and soft drinks. Before the game, everyone sings the Hotty Toddy song:

“Are You Ready?

H*** Yeah! D*** Right!

Hotty Toddy, Gosh Almighty,

Who The H*** Are We? Hey!

Flim Flam, Bim Bam

Ole Miss By D***!”

For more information on this unique cheer:

http://www.al.com/sports/index.ssf/2013/09/what_is_a_hotty_toddy_and_why.html

Ole Miss continues the beloved seating arrangement where the students are down close. I love seeing this as a slap in the face of the fat cat fans who have season tickets owned by big corporations.

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Do you see in the picture above a gentleman dressed in denim seated to the left of the all brown clothed female in the front row? The sixth from the right? You won’t recognize him from this distance but he is a big movie star who is a regular at Ole Miss games. It helps talking to friendly folks seated around us especially after I tell them about my crazy quest. Okay the gentleman is Morgan Freeman.

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The place is a step above your typical college arena. There are so much variety with places to eat that you will have a tough time deciding what to eat. Below are some of the eateries:

 

The game was back and forth the entire game but Missouri surprisingly held on till the end. My player of the game was Ole Miss Deandre Burnett a 6′ 2″ guard who lit up the Tigers for 28 points. I was also impressed by freshman Missouri guard Frankie Hughes who was very hot from the three point stripe.

A first for me was a cellphone light display by the fans. I have seen this at concerts but never at a basketball game.

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A final shout out to the scoreboard! It was high def and simple to follow. On to Graceland!

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