Monday, February 16, 2009

On the Road to See Some Dutch BlueHen

Well it was my birthday yesterday. How old am I? Well since the Daytona 500 was yesterday, to use a relative analogy, my birthday equal's the number on Richard Petty's race car. Where has the time gone? Well, to celebrate that, one day early I went down to Newark, Delaware with my friend Tony Terentieff to see Hofstra take on Delaware in what turned out as another wacky day in the CAA on Saturday.

First, I left my car in a Petco parking lot in Valley Stream. Tieff had to go meet his wife after the game in Queens for a party. Thus we headed back onto Sunrise Highway for this all familiar trip. You see, it's certainly not the first time we have been down in Delaware. In fact, this is a common road trip for us. Belt to the Verrazano to the Outerbridge Crossing to the NJ Turnpike. It's the only way to go for CAA Road trips to Delaware, Towson, Drexel and yes Richmond.

We have done this many times before. The day trips to Delaware, Towson, and Drexel always involve a good meal, often either Waffle House or Dairy Queen, especially when we road to Towson, cause there is no place to eat around there (lots of malls, no places to eat). When we have gone to Drexel, once it was Shula's (very good but way too expensive) and Maggiano's (worth every penny).

So as you could cue Willie Nelson, back down to Delaware. Kyle Whelliston on his Mid Majority Site recently had a contest for the worst/most boring stretch of interstate in the country. I submit my nomination for the Jersey Turnpike, especially after it becomes two lanes when you head south. It's a long trip and its pretty much straight and consistent. Trees and a Molly Hatcher rest area. Yawn. Good thing we had each other for company, plus my cell phone gave us updates on George Mason/Northeastern and later ODU/VCU. More on those later.

Now heading into Delaware, the first thing that struck us was that the GPS wanted us to take another way and we somehow didn't listen. The right way was to take 896 off 295, which we did. The giant sign for University of Delaware, exit 1B, is a little bit of a giveaway. Anyway, the Bob Carpenter Center, otherwise known as "The Bob", is very easy to get too and opposed to other arenas I have been at, easy to park. The Bob is part of the David Nelson Complex - It's a nice complex -football/lacrosse field, basketball arena, baseball diamond, training facilities etc etc.

We didn't leave enough time to stop along the way to eat. So we decided to get to the arena a good 50 minutes early for a hot dog. It was the best thing we did, because we forgot about the Blue Hens' hospitality. They have a nice concessions area where you can get REAL food. We're talking BBQ Pork, hot turkey, roast beef sandwiches and they slice it up right in front of you. A couple of nice sides like mashed potatoes and real homemade macaroni salad, not the stuff you get in the supermarket. 12 bucks for a platter and a large drink. It's a real meal and certainly pretty good. There is another concessions booth where you can get the typical game fare, hot dogs etc. By the way, the hot chocolate chip cookies are good too.

What you can't also beat is the seating area. Large round tables that require you to sit with someone else and that invites conversation. Good conversation. We first sat down at a table as another couple, in fact Hofstra fans were getting up. The husband was having a talk with an older gentleman at the next table wearing a Phillies hat. The Phillies fan was asking who Hofstra had next after this game. The husband in the Hofstra hat looked at his schedule. We chimed in with "Madison" (as in James Madison) and the Hofstra fan said "Yeah, James Madison". The Phillie fan then said "Well, you can take our your frustrations from losing to us and beat them!". The Hofstra fan laughed and said "Go Dutchmen!". As you know from the previous column, there is nothing better than hearing that. :-)

So as we were eating another couple sat down next to us. Delaware fans, but very friendly. As we struck up a conversation, we noted to them that there were a lot of state troopers, both New Jersey and Delaware on the turnpike and 295. Seems the economy has resulted in the police looking to get as much money out of tickets as they possibly can. The woman stated her daughter was making the trip down from NY for the game too and was still on the road. She immediately called her and gave her a heads up because apparently she drives very fast. Nothing like being able to help someone avoid a speeding ticket.

After we finished our meal and wished the Delaware fans well, we headed to our seat. Now if you have ever been to the Frank A. Acierno arena which is located in the Bob, its actually a very nice mid major arena. Seats 5,000, about the same as the Mack Arena at Hofstra. However, its a larger and nicer facility. The first thing you notice is that as you walk on the left hand side of the arena, there is a very large reception area that they use for Blue Hen club members with a buffet etc. It's basically all glass so that you can watch the game from there if you wanted. Each ends of the court, the seating is classic bleacher seating. The left hand side section where we sat is all chair seating. The opposite end is a mix of chair and bleacher seating.

The turnout for the game was disappointing about 3200, so the arena was at 60 percent capacity. The student section had a decent turnout but they were not too vocal. However Delaware has two great things going for it. A terrific pep band with about 50 members in it. Their version of Kansas' "Carry on My Wayward Son" might be the best band version ever of that song. And there is of course, the Delaware Dance Team, which might be a great recruiting item for the male student market.

We were able to sit in Section 14 despite having tickets for section 15, which we have sat in before. That was definitely an indicator of the previous paragraph. When we were here before, we had to sit our section 15 tickets because there was a better turnout.

The game started off as if Delaware was going to blow Hofstra out of the building. You generally have that feeling with Hofstra because their offense consisted for the first few minutes of Charles Jenkins putting up shots. In fact, Jenkins had five of the first seven field goal attempts, hitting two of them. Meanwhile Delaware scored nine quick points with a couple of threes by Marc Egerson and DJ Boney, a layup by Boney and a couple of free throws by Jawan Carter. So the score was 9-4 with about four minutes gone by. Delaware looked like they were still on their torrid outside shooting from Thursday's nationally televised win over George Mason. And Hofstra, well, they were shooting like the team that's next to last place in the CAA in FG percentage.

But as basketball generally is, a game of runs, Hofstra would have a run of its own. The Pride would go on a 13-2 run as Hofstra actually had some balanced scoring to go up 17-11. But did I mention that basketball is a game of runs. Well, the Blue Hens came back on a 16-5 run to end the half, leading 27-22 into halftime. Egerson was a good part of this run to help the Hens get the deficit to one 17-16. Then he picked up his second foul with seven minutes left. This would become a big factor which I will pick up on shortly. But the Blue Hens seemed unfazed by the loss of their leading scorer. The Hens' other three guards, Boney, Alphonso Dawson and Brian Johnson picked up the slack and actually played better with Egerson on the bench.

Neither team shot the ball particularly well in the first half. Delaware shot 30 percent (despite shooting 4 of 8 from three) and Hofstra 26 percent, including an ugly 1 of 10 from three. What kept Hofstra in the game was they had less turnovers than Delaware (6 to the Blue Hens' 9) and thus had 11 more shots.

The second half was a much different story. After Delaware hit the first basket, Hofstra went on a 12-0 run, with Jenkins scoring seven of those points, to go up 34-29. Also during this time, with 17:30 left, Egerson picked up his third foul. However, Delaware coach Montae Ross decided to leave his star player out on the court and it turned out to be a critical mistake. Smelling blood, Hofstra worked the ball inside several times to Arminas Urbutis, the player Egerson was guarding. It took several tries, but Urbutis drew Egerson's fourth foul with 12:12 left in the game.

During the time Egerson was on the court with three fouls, Delaware had managed to close the gap without Egerson even scoring a point. In fact, shortly after Egerson left the court with his fourth foul, the Blue Hens tied the game at 40 and would actually take the lead at 45-43 with nine minutes left. As Tieff mentioned to me, Egerson was so out of rhythm for most of the game, it was better off he was not in there, which made Ross' decision even more questionable.

But without their best player, it was only a matter of time before Hofstra would take advantage and they did. Hofstra would go up 50-45 as Zygis Sestokas nailed a three and Urbutis and Jenkins would score baskets. Sensing the game slipping away, Ross brought Egerson back in with 7:37 left. Delaware then promptly tied up the game at 50 with 5:49 left. The game was tied at 52 with 5:19 left when Hofstra took the lead and never looked back. Greg Washington and Nathaniel Lester were responsible for the twelve of the next fourteen Hofstra points as the Pride pulled out to a 65-59 lead.

It is here with 39 seconds left and Hofstra on the line, there was a surprising mass exodus by the Delaware fans. Tieff and I increduously looked on as we saw lots of Blue Hens fans leave the arena figuring the game was over. Some stopped though as Hofstra missed the front end of a one on one free throw, but Delaware turned the ball over and the fans continued on out. Jenkins would add four more points on free throws and the Pride won 69-59.

The Pride, who shot 26 percent in the first half, shot 61 percent in the second half (16 of 26) to shoot 41.7 percent overall. The Pride also was 12 of 16 from the line in the second half as well. Jenkins led the way with 26 points on 9 of 18 from the field but he had help from his friends. Lester added 12 points and 9 rebounds, Greg Washington had 10 points and Zygis Sestokas added 9 points, all on three three pointers.

Hofstra held the Blue Hens to 35 percent from the field including 2 of 14 from the three point line in the second half. Egerson was held to seven points on 3 of 10 shooting from the field (he did have nine rebounds). Brian Johnson, who is quicker than a hiccup, led Delaware with 16 points, Alphonso Dawson added 12 and DJ Boney had 10 points.

If you have never seen Egerson, he looks more like a linebacker than a basketball player He is six foot six, 235 pounds. It was really impressive watching him stand next to Townes at the free throw line. Townes, who is no stick and pretty muscular was a twig compared to Egerson, who can be simply described as thick. You can see why Georgetown first recruited him. He can shoot the three, drive to the basket and rebound like there is no tomorrow. And you can see why he is the only player in the CAA to average a double double.

So we left the arena in search of a Dairy Queen to celebrate a good day. The GPS told us there was one in Newark a mile away. As the GPS said that we had reached our destination, we couldn't tell where there was one. Then we realized as we got close to it, the lights were off on the sign, but the place was open and hopping. The sign must be off to ward away out of towners like us, or as Tieff called it "The Stealth Dairy Queen". We got out large Blizzards and headed home.

It was just another part of a wacky day in the CAA. We already knew thanks to my cell phone updates that George Mason kept their home unbeaten streak in tact, defeating Northeastern 64-55. VCU then had a chance then to take sole possession of first place in the CAA and the updates kept us interested for the second part of the trip. But we knew right as the Hofstra- Delaware game started that they didn't get the job done. The Rams fell on the road to Old Dominion 69-65. James Madison and Drexel held serve at home as both teams won their games on Saturday and Sunday respectively. As a result, seven teams are separated by two games in the standings with three to play. Northeastern and VCU are tied for first at 11-4. Then Drexel and George Mason are tied for third at 10-5. Then James Madison, Hofstra and Old Dominion are all tied for third at 9-6.

Well things should change on "Something's Gotta Give" Wednesday. This Wednesday, Drexel goes to George Mason to try to break the Patriots undefeated home court streak. One thing will be broken for sure in that game, the tie for third. Madison travels to Hofstra as at least one team will fall out of the tie for fifth. Northeastern looks to stay in first by hosting Georgia State. Meanwhile VCU is home to Delaware, with revenge on their mind for the opening season conference loss to the Blue Hens. ODU travels to UNCW hoping to at least stay tied for fifth after the evening.

All in all it was a great early birthday present and another reminder why college basketball road trips make the best presents. :-)

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