Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Two Day Trip of Football, Atlantic City, College Basketball and Cheesesteak

If you are one of the few, the proud, the regular readers of my site, you know that I work for an academic institution.  It has been a very busy semester as two of my staff members left to work in the city, so it's been quite busy making up for the loss of two talented people.   So around the second week of December, I was worn out.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend Mal had suggested to Tieff and me an overnight trip. It would start on Sunday,  January 2nd with the Jets hosting Buffalo, then a quick jaunt to Atlantic City capped by a drive to Philly to watch Hofstra take on Drexel on Monday night. It was a trip that involved three of my favorite things; the Jets, poker and  of course, good CAA college basketball.

When my wife asked me what I wanted for Christmas, I asked her for this trip. I didn't get an answer until Christmas Day, when one of my presents was labeled "Enjoy your trip!" It was a basket of trip necessities - shaving cream, toothpaste, razor, mouthwash, comb and deodorant.  To me, it was the perfect gift and my trip extended my Christmas break vacation by another day.

We met at Mal's house at 11:00 am Sunday morning and headed off to the Jets game. We have four season tickets for the Jets. But what's ironic is that we sold two of our tickets to Mal's work colleague. So we only had two of our tickets for the game.

But next to our seats is an open seat due to it being an obstructed view seat since it has a column to the right of it. The Jets won't even sell the seat. What's funny is that the view of the field isn't obstructed at all.   And we even offered the Jets to buy the season tickets for the seat at a discount. And yet the Jets wouldn't sell it to us.  Weird.

So we had to buy an extra ticket and then one of us could sit at the open "obstructed" seat. When Mal and I checked on Stubhub, the cost of the lowest priced seat was $55. But Mal figured that we would get a cheaper cost from someone scalping outside the stadium.  Thankfully the Jets had sewn up a playoff berth last week and the game basically had little meaning.  Thus you had people trying desperately to sell tickets outside the stadium. Mal picked up a seat for $20.

As for the game itself, you knew the Bills were done when they sat starter Ryan Fitzpatrick and played backup Brian Brohm. Brohm wasn't ready for the task as he had one pass picked off and returned for a touchdown. Meanwhile the Jets played Mark Sanchez one series and he never threw a pass as they ran the ball down the field for a field goal. The rest of the game was played by backups Mark Brunell and in the fourth Kellen Clemens. We left the game with the Jets up 24-7 before the start of the fourth quarter. The Jets would eventually win 38-7.

We got out of the Meadowlands before 4pm and took the trip down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic City. While we drove down I kept Mal and Tieff abreast of the Colts/Titans and Bears/Packers games. We got to the Borgata a quarter after six and checked into our rooms. We had dinner at Wolfgang Puck's as we found out the Colts and Packers both won while they showed  the meaningless Eagles-Cowboys game on the TV. Then it was off to poker.

I have been to Atlantic City and Las Vegas several times each (and this was my third stay at the Borgata). And the only gambling I do in both cities is play poker. Texas Hold Em, usually $1 -$2 blinds, and in this case, no limit.  I have been playing poker since my early -mid 20's, long before the poker craze.  I consider myself an OK player, but not an expert player by any means.  I bought a $100 of chips and Tieff and I sat at the same table.  Mal would sit at another table and eventually join us.

In poker, my style of play is simple.  Be patient and pay attention to the table.   If the majority of the players at the table are aggressive or play a lot of hands, don't join in.   Pick your spots, play only good hands and things tend to work out.   I won the first hand I was in, then I only played another two hands for a good 20 minutes as I was getting dealt horrible cards.

Then I started getting dealt good cards.  Pocket fives and pocket sixes led to two winning hands by being passive on the preflop but aggressive and betting heavy on the flop.  Yes, they were only small pots, but still I was making money and making sure no one stayed in and got lucky on the turn or river.   Then as luck would have it, I got pocket Aces three times over the span of ten minutes.  The first two times I played it slow, winning both hands.  I also eventually knocked out Tieff  as he went all in with Jacks vs. my Aces.

Then came the hand of the night as I got dealt Aces again for a third time.  Again,  I raised pre flop with a small bet.  Then another player raised me $35.   Knowing I had the best hand,  I went all in, trying to make sure that he wouldn't stick around and get lucky on the flop.  Much to my amazement, he called.  He had pocket kings.  The flop, turn and river didn't help him and I busted him.   He was furious, bought back in and did his darnedest to try to get back at me.  But in the two hands that we played against each other, I folded, not giving him the satisfaction or the chance to get even.  I cashed out shortly after, knowing I was up a $100, plus I was tired from being up early in the day.  I was back in my hotel room at 11:00 PM.  Yup, I am a lightweight.

Monday morning came, and it was unusual to sleep past 7:00 am uninterrupted by either of my two young boys.  I ended up waking up around 9:00 am to a text from Mal wondering about breakfast,  The rest of the morning/early afternoon consisted of a huge breakfast at the Borgata Buffet, then putzing around for a few hours before indulging on Ben and Jerry's at 2pm while Mal played more poker. A little after 3:00 PM, we left the Borgata and headed out on the Atlantic City Expressway to Philly - land of cheesesteaks, the Big Five and for one night, Hofstra vs Drexel.

We made it to Philly in about an hour from Atlantic City and found meter parking on Chestnut Street directly across from Drexel's Earle Mack School of Law.   Looking for a place to kill time, we had seen an Irish Pub/restaurant on the corner of Market called Sliante, which is Gaelic for "Cheers".  We walked down Chestnut and made our way into the pub.

Sliante has a wide selection of beers and really good food.  We decided to have the piled high nachos with chicken and I downed the few that I picked at with a glass of Magnus cider on tap.  We made friends with the waitress Dari and told her we were so impressed with the food, the service and the place that we would be back there after the game. And we made good on our promise later.

Tieff, Mal and I then made the walk back to Drexel's campus and wondered where the athletic center was located since it had been a long while since Tieff and I had been there last.  We followed the large column signs that pointed to where the DAC was located.  Then when we got close, we followed the several yard signs to the game.  Of course, I had to take a shot of Tieff and Mal by one of the signs.

It had been four years since Tieff and I were last here at the DAC.  We had first been there previously in 2005 to watch Drexel pound Hofstra.  We were last there on January 28, 2006 when the Pride took on Drexel in front of a packed house.  It turned out to be one of the wildest games I had ever seen.  That night we saw Hofstra and Drexel battle back and forth.  The Pride took a late six point lead, only to have the Dragons rally late in the second half and force overtime.  In the overtime, Drexel had a six point lead, 75-69 with 35 seconds left.  Hofstra looked like toast at that point.

But that's when the fun truly began.  With 35 seconds, Hofstra's Antonie Agudio was fouled.  He made the first free throw, but missed the second one.  However, the rebound on the second attempt went to Hofstra and Carlos Rivera nailed a three pointer to cut the score to 75-73.   On the next inbounds play, the Dragons' Chaz Crawford had trouble inbounding the ball with a timeout to spare and inexplicably didn't use it, resulting in Drexel being called for five seconds.  The Pride got the ball back and Rivera was fouled shooting a three point attempt with 6.2 seconds left.  Then Bruiser Flint received a technical foul call for arguing with the referee about the call.   Thus Rivera had five free throws to make.  But wouldn't you know it, Rivera then missed the two technical foul three throws.  With a frenzied crowd loud as it could be, Rivera recomposed himself and hit the next three free throws.  Drexel called timeout, but Bashir Mason's off balance 25 footer went in and out and Hofstra amazingly escaped with a 76-75 win.

It didn't seem possible that anything could top that game or that Hofstra would be able to even pull out a win Monday night.  The Pride had just come off a beatdown last week at the hands of MAAC member Iona 87-62.  Meanwhile, Drexel had started out this season 9-2, including a big win at then undefeated Louisville.  In their last game, the Dragons had just spanked another MAAC team, Niagara by 45 points.  The oddsmakers had Drexel favored in this game by eleven and the spread seemed warranted.

I have always liked the DAC.  It's a small gym that seats about 2300.  What really makes it stand out is that the fans are literally on top of the action.  There are sections of the court that seem not even a foot between the first row of the stands and the court.   That adds to the ability of the fans to disrupt/heckle the players.  And much to my surprise, Drexel started its spring semester that day, thus no concern about lack of student attendance (unlike Hofstra, where undergrad classes don't start till January 26).

We got our tickets and after posing for a picture with the Drexel Dragon, I took my seats with Tieff and Mal, in the fourth row center court.  All the seating at the DAC is bleacher seating and only a few rows in the entire gym are designated for season ticket holders.

After we sat down, it was a trip down nostalgia lane. Mal noticed in the free Drexel program that Robert Battle, former Drexel forward and one of the College Hardwood's all time favorite players was playing in Argentina while Phil Goss, a favorite of Tieff's was playing in the top Italian league.  Nice to know players you remember are still going strong in professional leagues.

As the crowd filled up the seats, especially the student section, one had the sense that this had the makings of a good time.  You had the Drexel pep band, a loud and what we would find out would be an inventive student section, and two old America East rivals that were used to slugging it out on the court.

It was the first game of three games this week for each team.   When the CAA starts conference play in January, they START conference play.   For each of these teams, if they didn't play well this week, they could be looking at 1-3 come next Sunday morning.  So starting off the week with a win was imperative for both Drexel and Hofstra.

It was very apparent at the tipoff what both teams were going to do defensively.  Hofstra went to its Cuse zone defense to try to force Drexel to shoot from the outside. Meanwhile the Dragons played their typical man to man to wear down the Pride.

To counteract the man to man defense, Hofstra showed a lot more movement than they did against Iona.   This resulted in Greg Washington hitting two early open jumpers to put the Pride up 5-2.   However, Drexel was consistently finding the weak part of the zone on the left block and Samme Givens was taking full advantage.  Givens scored eleven of the Dragons' first sixteen points and Drexel was up 16-13 with 11:20 left in the first half.

The Pride would come back with a 16-6 run as Jenkins hit two long three point bombs. The second of Jenkins' NBA three pointers would put Hofstra up 29-22 with 5:29 left in the first half.   The teams would hold serve the rest of the way and the Pride would be up 34-27 at halftime.

Due to Drexel dominating the glass, especially on the offensive end, they would have eleven more FG attempts in the first half than Hofstra.  But the Pride would actually score two more field goals (Hofstra would shoot 13 of 26 compared to Drexel's 11 of 37).    This was due in large part to a very smart move on Hofstra Coach Mo Cassara's part.   When the Dragons' leading scorer, Chris Fouch, entered the game, Cassara immediately put Yves Jules on him.   So though the Pride was playing a zone, in part, it was a matchup zone with Jules defending Fouch.  And it worked, as Fouch was held to only two first half points.

However, Hofstra had frontcourt foul problems.  Washington picked up two quick fouls and later picked up his third late in the first half.  His replacement, Stephen Nwaukoni picked up two fouls.  Imes also had two fouls.   With their three frontcourt players all in foul trouble, Hofstra turned to seldom used Paul Bilbo for help.  And he provided stellar defense late in the first half and a sweet baby hook to give the Pride their last points of the half.

Now games that involve Drexel are fun in large part due to one Bruiser Flint.  Flint is possibly the most demonstrative, funniest coach to watch in the CAA.  And only being a few rows away from the Dragons' bench gave an interesting perspective to Bruiser's actions.  When Derrick Thomas made a mistake in defending a Hofstra player, Bruiser screamed out to Thomas "We talked about this!"   And in the picture above, Bruiser is discussing, what else, a foul call with a referee.

But Bruiser is not the only fun thing about Drexel games.  The main Drexel student section sits directly across from the opposing team's bench.  And having seen the Drexel fans at the CAA Tournament over the past several years and now three games at the DAC, they have a tradition of unfurling inventive and funny banners on their opponents.   The banner they unveiled to the Hofstra bench used "Jersey Shore" terms to describe what Hofstra's most popular majors were (and yes, I had to look it up since I have never seen Jersey Shore).

Then you had a crazy fan dressed up in a Blue Man suit with Drexel colors, who tried distracting Hofstra's foul shooters.  In the first half, he raced from the one end of the court down to the other end where Hofstra was shooting and jumped up and down.  Another time in the first half, he took off his shorts and yes, starting slapping his blue suit butt as a Hofstra player shot free throws.  That resulted in a talking to by a Drexel security member.   Needless to say, he didn't do that again.  Finally, in the second half, he had an ingenious idea of folding himself into a box and then popping out like a jack in the box as the Hofstra player shot the ball at the line.   Pretty damn funny.

As for the second half, Drexel went back to its bread and butter.  Work the ball inside and draw fouls.  And draw fouls they did.  In the span of six minutes, Washington picked up his fourth foul, Nwaukoni his third and Imes his third.  But most importantly, Jenkins picked up three fouls during that stretch.  With 14:11 left in the game, Jenkins had four fouls.   And during that time span, Drexel outscored Hofstra 17-6 to go up 44-40.

With 14:11 left, Jenkins was on the bench, Hofstra had committed nine fouls to Drexel's two and a seven point halftime lead had gone up in smoke.   Things did not look good for the road team.   But the Pride did not give up and over the span of four and a half minutes, they went toe to toe with the Dragons and the deficit was actually only two 48-46 when Jenkins came back in with 9:45 left.

Jenkins immediately made his presence known by assisting Mike Moore on a layup to tie the game at 48.  Drexel though would score seven of the next nine points as Givens and Daryl McCoy continued to have their way inside on Hofstra.  McCoy's layup made it 55-50 with 7:18 left.  But Hofstra's big three of Imes, Moore and of course, Jenkins would combine to score Hofstra's next eleven points.  Two Jenkins free throws capped an 11-5 mini spurt and put Hofstra up one, 61-60 with 3:17 left.

Drexel would go back up 62-61 on two Dartaye Ruffin free throws with 2:59 left in the game.  Ruffin would actually score ten of his sixteen points from the foul line.   But after Ruffin's two free throws, Hofstra would respond with a 7-0 mini-spurt, capped by a Moore three point play with exactly one minute left to put the Pride up 68-62.

The next 30 seconds would take much longer in actual time as the next seven points for both teams combined came from the free throw line. Jenkins two free throws made it 71-65 with 32 seconds left.  Drexel would actually cut the deficit to three, 72-69 on a Gerald Colds layup with five seconds left.  But Hofstra broke the Drexel pass and of course, the game would end on a foul as Imes was hacked as he hit a layup.  Imes would hit the free throw to end the game as Hofstra won 75-69.

It was perhaps the Pride's best overall effort on the season as seemingly every Hofstra player contributed in some fashion.  Of course, Jenkins had 23 points including 11 of 12 from the line.  He also had six rebounds and four assists.  Imes was a perfect 8 of 8 from the field and had 20 points and 8 rebounds.  Moore was huge late with 11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 steals.  Brad Kelleher had a much better game than he did against Iona with 7 points and 5 assists.  But Yves Jules might have been the hero of the game as he shut down Fouch.

Fouch did end up with 13 points but was only 3 of 10 from the field and only 1 of 5 from the line.  Givens was dominant as he had 25 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Ruffin had 9 rebounds, 5 on the offensive end to go with his 13 points.  Drexel outrebounded Hofstra 44-31 but the Dragons were held to 37.7 percent from the field including only 1 of 7 from beyond the arc.

In the stats of the night, both teams combined for 50 fouls and 59 free throws.  Hofstra shot 21 of 27 while Drexel shot 22 of 32 from the line.  Drexel had more fouls, 24 than field goals, 23 and free throws, 22.

Most of the 2064 in attendance at the DAC went home unhappy. But for three Hofstra fans, there was much to rejoice about.  The Pride knocked off what many considered was the second best team in the conference after ODU.  The Pride also started their three games in six days gauntlet with a much needed win and now were 2-0 in the CAA.

In a sign of things to come, during the game I looked above at the rafters.  And probably much to the chagrin of Defiantly Dutch's Jerry Beach, the Hofstra banner was next to the George Mason banner.  Ironically, these two of the three remaining undefeated conference teams (Georgia State being the other) will play Wednesday in Hempstead.  Only one will remain undefeated.   Meanwhile, Drexel must try to rebound from their loss by going to a difficult place to play.  The Dragons travel to the Siegel Center to take on a VCU team that was stunned by Georgia State.

After the crowd filled out, we finally left and we took the long walk down to Chestnut and Market.  And as we promised Dari, came back to Slainte for celebratory cheesesteak sandwiches.  And we all agreed, they were quite good as was the mashed potatoes I had as a side.  We then made our way back to our parked car and headed across the Ben Franklin bridge, back to the Turnpike and on our way home.

It was definitely another fun road trip.  We got to see a Jets win, played some poker, got to see another good  Drexel - Hofstra game and got in a cheesesteak sandwich.   It's the nicest Christmas present I have received in a long while, so a deepest thanks to my lovely wonderful wife.   But, when I pulled into the driveway of my house, I thought to myself one thing.

"When's the next road trip?"

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