Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Another Season Begins with St John's Defeating William and Mary

This recap is also on the Mid Majority Site here as part of the 800 Games Project.

Sometimes, I often don't decide to go to a basketball game until the last minute.  I wasn't sure if I was going to the William and Mary vs. St John's game last night, which was the first night of the college basketball season.  But I found out in the afternoon from my friend Mal that he and our friend Tony were going to the game.  You can't have the Hoops Trifecta without the third person.  So I told Mal I was in as well. 

I have known Mal and Tony for over twenty five years.  I went to college with Tony at Hofstra.  Mal was friends with him in high school at Glen Cove.  We all share a love of sports, especially college hoops.   The Hoops Trifecta has been going to college basketball games for years.  We have gone to countless games at Madison Square Garden.  They have been my partners in crime for Hofstra season tickets for years.  Mal, Tony and I all went together to the CAA Tournament in 2006 and 2007.   And in 2008, the Hoops Trifecta went to the NCAA First Round Regional in Raleigh.  Our last road trip together was a weekend excursion of Jets football, Atlantic City and Hofstra vs. Drexel in during New Year's weekend this past January.  

Mal had left for St John's earlier in the afternoon and Tony was coming in from the city to join up with him.  That left me driving alone to meet them there.  Once I got home, I changed and wolfed down two peanut butter granola bars, the first food I had all day.  Then I raced out of the house and headed off for the trip to Queens.  When I started my drive, it was 5:45 PM.  I figured I had plenty of time to get to St John's.  As usual, I was mistaken.

Living on Long Island, you are used to traffic, especially weekday evening rush hour traffic. Attempting to drive east or west during this time is often an act of futility.  Last night was no exception.  The Northern State/Grand Central Parkway was a giant parking lot from exit 28 to exit 19, the exit for St John's.  Ten exits took an hour to drive.  

Somehow I found a relatively close parking spot to the Carnesecca Arena and met Mal right at the entrance.  I got there a little after the game started.  William and Mary was up 7-4 and we headed to our seats where Tony and his friend Lawrence were there to greet us.  

The Tribe was taking on a young St John's team that featured six new players in their seven man rotation. Meanwhile, William and Mary returned their three starting guards from last season; Julian Boatner, Brandon Britt and Quinn McDowell, a second team All CAA player.  It was a contrast in styles. The athletic Red Storm vs. the perimeter based shooting of the Tribe.

When I last saw William and Mary play, it was in the CAA Tournament in March.  In the first round, McDowell set the all time scoring record for points in a game when he put in thirty five points in an upset win over James Madison.  For the Tribe to pull out a road win, McDowell would need another big game.

Early on, it was obvious what William and Mary and the Stache, Coach Tony Shaver, were trying to do against St John's.  They wanted to play a half court game and force the talented but inexperienced Red Storm to play a half court offense, negating St John's athletic advantage.  Meanwhile on offense, the Tribe was content to shoot the three.  Of their first twenty seven shots in the first half, William and Mary shot twenty one three pointers.  That wasn't a misprint.  Only six of their shots in the first half were two point shots.  

The Red Storm struggled from the field in the first half shooting barely over 30 percent and only hitting 2 of 9 from beyond the arc.  Shaver's plan was working to perfection as the young St John's team was frustrated by the slower pace.  

Midway through the first half, McDowell found his stroke, burying three shots from the outside, including two threes to help put the Tribe up 33-26 at the half.   He had ten points in the first twenty minutes as William and Mary basically silenced the St John's home crowd.  

As halftime started, on the advice of Mal, I went to the upper corner concession stand.  My first real meal of the day consisted of a hot dog and a pretzel braid.  As I sat back in my seat, a local fourth grade CYO team played a split squad game during the intermission.  The crowd was more enthusiastic during this brief period of time than for most of the first half.  They cheered loudest for number 20, by far the smallest kid on either of the CYO squads.  It was ironic to see a Power Six conference team's fans cheer for the little guy. 

At the start of the second half, McDowell continued his hot shooting, burying another jumper.  McDowell's long range two pointer gave William and Mary their biggest lead 35-26.  It looked like the Stache was going to pull off another upset.

Then St John's went to a press and everything changed.  The Red Storm hounded the Tribe's guards into numerous turnovers and as a result had numerous fast break attempts.  What had been a nine point lead for William and Mary quickly evaporated in the span of four minutes.  A D ‘Angelo Harrison three pointer put St John's up 39-37 with nearly fifteen and a half minutes left in the game.

With an energized crowd and the young Red Storm now playing to their strengths, the Tribe needed to regroup and at least slow down the momentum.  Julian Boatner's three pointer did that and cut the lead to one, 41-40.  But William and Mary was their own worst enemy as they continue to commit turnover after turnover and St John's seemingly cashed in on every opportunity.   Before long, the rout was on and St John's athleticism was too much on both ends of the court.

McDowell did what he could, as he would score another eight points to give him twenty on the night.  But the Tribe lacked an inside presence all evening and St John's limited William and Mary to only eleven three point attempts in the second half.  Boatner was the only other W&M player in double digits with twelve points.  Throw in twenty one turnovers and you had the recipe for the Red Storm outscoring the Tribe by twenty two in the second half.   St John's would win the game 74-59.

Towards the end of the game, the Red Storm cheerleaders were throwing t-shirts up into the crowd.  One of the cheerleaders tossed a high arc towards my section.  I perfectly laid out my arms for the throw and snatched it from the person in the row below me.  No over the back call here and my older son had another basketball t-shirt for his collection.   

As we headed out of the arena, Mal and Tony said goodbye to me as they were heading back together along with Tony's friend Lawrence.   However, we knew it wouldn't be long before we see each other again.  The Hoops Trifecta will be back together Friday night when LIU plays Hofstra at the Mack Center.  We wouldn't have it any other way.   

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