Elon (65) vs. Drexel (79) 01/03/19

Game #73 of 353  20% complete

My cousin Brian and I started off the night at Abner’s for an old fashioned Philly cheese steak. Located near the Drexel campus, it came highly recommended by a coworker of Brian who is a Drexel graduate. Although the more famous Pat’s and Geno’s may be the hot tourists spots, Brian has had them all and said that Abner’s was equal to the task.

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The wall at Abner’s was adorned with Drexel memorabilia. As you can see from the sign above and much to my surprise, Drexel is not part of the Big Five (otherwise it would be known as the Big Six).  I had to research this and came upon the following article giving a good history of the Big Five – http://www.pages.drexel.edu/~dsodacp/about/bigfive.html.

Basically, Drexel does not share the history of the other schools. Also, it has become increasingly difficult to schedule non league opponents given the plethora of tournaments and increasing demands from leagues to increase their inter league play. Drexel is on friendly terms with the other schools and does play them on a regular basis.

The Palestra is a couple of blocks away from Drexel so it makes for a great weekend of basketball should they both be playing at home.

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So this has to win the “coolest” entrance so far in my journey. The dragon eyes for the Drexel Dragons greet you as you make your way into the arena. As the Drexel team was introduced, two steam spouts blew behind the bench simulating a dragon’s breath. These were very cool special effects!

During the pre-game warm ups, the band, dance team and  some random fans gathered around the Drexel team. They all did a group cheer and wished the team well. That was the first time I have seen that done.

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The arena was sparse this evening of fans. Perhaps because the students were on break but I did not sense an excitement from the fans about the program.  I will give kudos to the pep band for providing some encouraging sounds throughout the night.

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I try to include the opening tip in all my blog posts. It is rare when I can time it with my crappy Apple 5S to capture both hands tipping the ball at the same time.

I spring for courtside seats when the price is reasonable which happens with small schools like Drexel. Although the view was great, there were times when I wanted to tell the referee to move out of the way.

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Brian came up with a great observation during the game. He found out that Elon player Steven Santa Anna made national headlines last year for being tripped by Grayson Allen. The incident led a national shaming for Allen who followed up with a tearful apology. Santa Anna was clearly the best player for Elon tonight and is leading his team in scoring this year.

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This game marks another milestone in the journey as all the Philly schools are now checked off.

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Next game: Savannah State at Coppin State 01/05/18

 

 

 

 

Depaul (68) vs. Villanova (73) 01/02/19

Game #72 of 353  20% complete

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It was good to be back on the road after a holiday break. I am near Philadelphia  completing the last two schools in this area –  Villanova and Drexel.  The new on-campus Finneran Pavilion was under construction for the past two years so I purposely held off to see Nova till its completion.

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So  I think it is appropriate at this time to restate two rules I have about my journey. The first is that my goal is to visit every campus once to see a game in whatever arena is available at the time. Should a school build or rehab an arena after my visit, I do not go back to see a game there again. The second is that I always will go to a campus arena unless there is none like in the case of Georgetown. Nova also plays at the Wells Fargo arena but I will not go to a game there. My journey – my rules.

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I was very impressed when I walked into the Finneran Arena. You enter a circle of Nova memorabilia with mutli-media displays, plaques and trophies well bathed in bright lights. It is definitely a WOW moment. I reminisced over a display of Kerry Kittles who torched UCONN back in the Big East days. It was an impressive to see the multiple national basketball trophies with the basketball net placed over the glass trophy ball. More teams should do this with their dead space surrounding the arena.

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Did you ever think that a school was in one location but found out it somewhere else? I always thought that Nova was closer to Philly because it was always lumped with the downtown schools there. It is actually in Radnor which is about 1/2 hour away from Philly. I admittedly did not do much research on this because I was traveling with my host cousin Brian who was driving. BTW Brian is my backup for Operation 351 should I meet my ultimate demise.

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I was surprised that the Pavillion only holds 6500 seats. I am guessing that because it replaced the old Field House that perhaps they were limited in space. Interesting to note that the student section holds 2500 seats. Because the game was at 8:30PM, we did not have a chance to walk the campus. There was good and bad for parking. There was a free parking garage (good) but it does take a while to exit after the game (bad). We got home about midnight. One perk about being retired is that I did not have to get up for work the next day.

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Depaul led most of the way till Nova pulled away in the end. Eric Paschall for Nova was the star of the game leading everyone with 24 points. He is a unique player who is big and strong with a nice touch from the outside. When he drove the lane, he was unstoppable. He will be an interesting pick for the NBA GMs. I wonder whether his game will translate to the NBA but I believe he will do well.

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As we exited the arena, the ushers were handing out chocolate cookies and English muffins. I was too late for the cookies but did grab one of the last packages of muffins. I am enjoying some now as I type. Definitely a first for me in Operation 351!

Next game: Elon at Drexel 01/03/19

Sacred Heart (64) vs Lafayette (62) 12/02/18

Game #71 of 353   20% complete

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The rain continued to fall in the Lehigh Valley as we headed over Sunday to Easton to see the Lafayette Leopards. As we drove up to the Kirby Sports Center, the building looked historically old as we drove around looking for parking. Going around to the other side, we encountered a morphed building with a modern look. A little WIKI research found the following explaining the dual look : “Dedicated on June 2, 2000, the $35 million Allan P. Kirby Sports Center includes a new, 110,000-square-foot  intramural and recreational sports facility attached to the previously existing Kirby Field House. The field house itself received a $2.5 million face lift and interior renovations.”

The campus reminded me so much of the Holy Cross campus. The school buildings are situated on a hill side mixed in with older style residential houses.

Here are a couple of pictures of the cool looking football arena adjacent to the field house.

I had to call the ticket office last week to inquire about courtside seats. I always tell my Operation 351 story to anyone who might be interested. As I was picking up the tickets, I met the women manning the ticket office who immediately started asking questions about the mission. They thought it was pretty cool which always gives me that added dose of adrenaline to keep this this quest going.

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The halls were filled with displays of Lafayette sports history. The red uniform above was an 1890 football uniform. Another case had a basketball from the early 1900’s.  I  believe that every campus arena should have these displays with the Palestra being the model.

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Being from Connecticut, it is always a treat to see a local club (Sacred Heart) come in as a visitor far away from Connecticut. However, my rule is to always root for the home school with the sole exception when I see UCONN as the visitor.

So I have been asked, “If you are such a die hard UCONN fan, how can you miss games like the Arizona/UCONN game Sunday to see a game in Pennsylvania?” My answer is that it getting increasingly difficult to schedule back to back games that minimize the cost and time traveling from Connecticut. I also have to insure that the games fit into my personal schedule given that I do have a life outside of Operation 351 and also with other Operation 351 games previously scheduled. When the opportunity presents itself, I grab it knowing that I can always watch UCONN delayed afterwards. I did die a slow death watching the end of the Airzona/ UCONN game live on the TV in the arena hall at halftime.

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This was a very entertaining back and forth game to watch. I am always concerned about an overtime game when it is the last game to see before heading home. With the score tied at 62, a missed three pointer by Sacred Heart was tipped in with three seconds to go by Jare’l Spelman to give the Pioneers the win. The 6’10” Spelman had a long reach and frequently out rebounded the smaller Lafayette team. Hard to imaging that Spelman was a transfer from Division 2 school Florida Southern. He must have truly dominated down there.

                                                  Happy Holidays to everyone!

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Next game : Depaul at Villanova 1/2/19

 

 

Arkansas State (70) vs. Lehigh (82) 12/01/18

Game #70 of 353  19% complete

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The 3 1/2 hour ride from Connecticut was made easier with the company of my friend Andy who has completed 12 Operation 351 games with me over the years. I am anticipating one more car ride to Philly this year and a couple more to Pennsylvania and New York next year before turning to plains and trains.  It is a sign of progress for me that I have run out of driveable games to go to. Although technically any game can be driven to but I cut it off at the 4 hour mark.

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The Stabler Athletic and Convention Center was opened up in 1979 and showing her age. The old lady could use a fresh coat of paint on the walls and floors. It is rare that I can take my half time walk around the perimeter halls and encounter nothing but a couple of concession stands. I always look for school memorabilia and achievements but there was absolutely nothing. The stands were void of students except for the cheerleaders and pep band. I assumed it was class break but the last day of classes are December 8th unless I am misunderstanding the academic schedule. Given that Lehigh is one of the stronger teams in the Patriot League, I expected more excitement.

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One of the joys of visiting small arenas is the opportunity to sit in court side seats for a reasonable price. This was the case for this game and the Lafayette game. One does not appreciate the speed and quickness of the games till you are sitting eye level and up close. You also get a better sense of the offensive scheme and patterns a team runs from this perspective.

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This game was a classic case of size (Lehigh) vs. quickness (Arkansas State). The height advantage underneath was too much for the Redwolves (love this name) to overcome. I was very impressed with Arkansas State guard Ty Cockfeld who scored 30 points with an all around solid game. Lehigh answered with Kyle Leufroy who scored 20 points with clutch shooting down the stretch.

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I used some well honed begging techniques to acquire this t shirt from a cheer leader. Although I am like many of  who have too many t shirts, this is one more piece of memory from my Operation 351 journey.

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Perhaps this is the game I should have gone to!

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Next game: Sacred Heart vs. Lafayette 12/02/2018

 

 

 

Houston (80) vs. Temple (59) 02/18/18

#63 of 351  17% complete

Today was Hooter’s birthday. The Temple mascot brought in his mascot friends for a birthday party.  As I entered the Liacouras Center, I was startled by the number of strange creatures milling in the hallway.

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However I did have the pleasure of meeting the real live mascot of the Temple Owls – Stella. I have always been partial to owls especially the one in “My Cousin Vinny” that woke up Joe Pesci.

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Here is the gathering of mascots on the court for the birthday party.

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The game was over as soon as it started. Houston was tremendously hot and Temple was not. It is a rare time when I hear booing from the crowd at a college basketball game.

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I can not believe that Rob Gray is still playing for Houston. It seems like he has been there forever. They are big and quick with no apparent weaknesses. I like them to go far in March.

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I vote the Liacouras Center as my favorite so far in terms of food concessions. There were dozen of places to eat offering different styles. It was quite a contrast to the Lasalle and St. Joe’s offerings.

I was trying to get a cheese steak at the famous Geno’s before the game. I was practicing my order “steak with prov and onions” as coached by my cousin Brian. Any deviation from these words would result in immediate ejection by the cranky order takers. After driving around for 15 minutes trying to find a parking spot, I gave up and took in some sightseeing near Independence Hall. It is amazing how all the cars were packed on these one way streets near Geno’s. I plan to UBER their next year to get my cheese steak.

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Houston dominated the boards led by Breaon Brady a 6’8″ 245 pound forward who was very imposing from my front row seat. Devin Davis was hot all night for Houston. The game was over by the half. The Temple fans were geared for an upset but left upset by the results.

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I felt sorry for the Temple fans who stand until the first Temple basket. Houston ran off to 15-0 lead. I saw some of the old timers wave their arms in disgust and sat down.

That’s it for my triple header in Philly.

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Next game: Dartmouth at Princeton 2/24/18

 

 

 

 

Duquesne (75) vs. St. Joseph’s (82) 02/17/18

#62 of 351  17% complete

“The Hawk never dies” is the slogan of the St. Joseph’s Hawks. To symbolize this motto, the Hawk mascot flaps his wings continuously the entire game till he leaves the court. Actually, it is a girl in the costume who waves one wing then the other wing then both wings. During a timeout, she does a circle eight on the court flapping her wings. The girl gets a full scholarship for this job. Yes I watched and she did not stop flapping till she left the court at the end of the game. Here is a story about the mascot:

http://www.espn.com/mens-college-basketball/tournament/2014/story/_/id/10703226/saint-joseph-hawk-mascot-never-stopped-flapping-wings-espn-magazine

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Before the game, Brian and I went looking for wings and a beer. Google brought up this place (which I will keep unnamed) with a fine looking bar. We called UBER and went off for some pre-game refreshments. As we were driving towards the place, the neighborhood kept looking dicier with each passing block.  As we pulled up to the place, I said that there is no way I am leaving the car. The lesson here is don’t be fooled by pretty pictures on Google. Check out the reviews too. We headed off to a place named Cavanaughs a few miles away. We feasted on some excellent wings and cold beer followed by a UBER ride back to the Hagan Arena.

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I was very impressed with St. Joseph’s game. They move the ball well with quickness and height. They were lead by senior guard Shavar Newkirk who was awarded before the game with a 1000 point ball.  I am very surprised that they are only 12-14 at this point in the season. I don’t think anybody is getting by Rhode Island in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

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The Hagan arena is a great place to see a game.  Not too big and not too small,  I can imagine how loud it gets during a game with a rival Philly team.

My freshman to watch was 6’9″ Hawks forward Taylor Funk (love that name). He has a nice jumper and was very mobile. He will be an A-10 star in the next few years.

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Check out the great nachos bar in the arena and the huge fan shop located next to the arena.

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Next game: Houston at Temple 02/18/18

 

George Mason (62) vs. LaSalle (69) 02/17/18

#61 of 351  17% complete

I was joined by my cousin Brian for the next two games. Brian’s coworker’s wife works in the Lasalle athletic department. He set up a very cool surprise for me. During a time out, my Operation 351 mission was announced to the crowd. I was wished luck on my journey and given a Lasalle hat by a dance team member. My picture was flashed on the big screen. Thanks Brian for a special day!

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You could see my cousin in the big screen holding the phone up. I was greeted by several fans asking questions about my quest.  I do this for myself but it is always fun to meet folks who wish they could be doing what I am doing.

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My favorite Lasalle player was named Pookie Powell. How can you go wrong with a name like that? Both teams played hard in this Atlantic 10 battle. I have still have horrific memories of the George Mason win against UCONN in 2006 when the 11th seeded Patriots defeated my beloved number one seed Huskies in the Elite 8 game.

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If you decide to go to the Tom Gala arena, I would suggest that you eat somewhere else ahead of time. There is only one concession stand that gets quickly overwhelmed at half time. However a shout out to Lasalle for providing free parking at the Shoppes at Lasalle shopping center. Too many colleges are starting to inflate their parking charges to make some revenue.

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Both teams are suffering through a mediocre season with Lasalle at 11-16 and George Mason at 12 -15. But is cool to see a team like this battle it out in its  league tournament a week before March Madness starts. Sometimes a Cinderella does slip through for a team you saw during the year.

The Lasalle mascot is one of the coolest mascots. When your team name is an Explorer, you need a keen imagination to come up with an outfit looking like one.

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My player of the game was Tony Washington of Lasalle. This 6’10 230 pound center was an imposing figure on both ends of the court. George Mason had no match up for him. Good to see Duane Simpkins the Maryland alumni on the George Mason bench. You feel your age when you see players that you watched a few years ago now end up as coaches.

There were was quite a contingent of Patriots fans at the game making the trek from Virginia.

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Next game: Duquense at St.Josephs 02/17/18

 

 

Princeton (64) Vs. Penn (49) 02/06/17

#46 in Operation 351.  13% complete.

 

Happy 90th Birthday to the Palestra! Opening night was on January 1, 1927 with Yale playing Penn. A celebration was also held for one for college’s longest rivalries – Princeton and Penn. The night started off right with a piece of birthday cake served in the lobby. I circled the entire gym taking in the numerous pictures of coaches and players who graced the Palestra over the years. It was especially satisfying to see Uconn’s own Jimmy Calhoun, Geno Auriemma and  Toby Kimball honored on the walls.

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To mention all the greats who played here would take pages but I did feel the ghost of Wilt Chamberlin from Overbrook High dunking as I headed to my seat. For those on a similar mission to mine, the Palestra is on our bucket list as a must see. This is Penn’s home court and located right in the middle of the campus. Some tidbits to note:

  1. Penn has had 22 undefeated Ivy League seasons in the Palestra.
  2. There are just two NCAA Division 1 programs that entered this year with more wins in their current home venue (Washington and Butler).
  3. Penn and/or Princeton won at least a share of the Ivy League title all but three years from 1959 to 2007.

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This was an 3 day/2 night trip that included some sightseeing of the historical venues that are a must see in Philly. The Liberty Bell, U.S. Mint, Independence Hall and the Philadelphia Art Museum were on the docket. Below is a picture of the famous Rocky scene where he runs up the steps of the art museum. A recreation from these tired legs from walking for two days prevented me from recreating the scene.

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Heading into the game, Princeton was 3-0 in the Ivy while Penn was 0-3. Despite the loud Penn crowd, the results were as expected. Princeton is a very good three point shooting team. I would not want to meet this club in March. Though lacking a true big man underneath (aren’t all IVY teams lacking this?), they pass the ball around quickly looking for an open three. Spencer Weiss of Princeton was on fire with 22 points hitting numerous threes.

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Kudos to the large Penn student section who were cheering loud to the end. I like to highlight “firsts” as I see them. This was the first time that both pep bands showed up for a game. There is always a lesson in geography on these trips. I did not know how close Princeton in New Jersey was to Penn with less than an hour drive between the schools.

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It was very cool that a souvenir poster was handed out to celebrate the birthday. Cross this one off my bucket list!

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That is a wrap!

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