Thursday, December 8, 2011

College Hoops Again Provide a Welcome Respite (Recap of FDU vs Stony Brook)

Watching live college basketball games, something I absolutely love, has been an outlet for me since I really started following Hofstra in the early 2000's.  Previously, I had enjoyed college hoops for years and I attended many games at MSG.  But when I truly became a fan of college basketball and Hofstra in particular, I found an avenue for anxiety, stress, even loss.  I could completely become engrossed in a game; the nuances of ball movement and defenses, marvel at the athleticism and skill of players, and the game management of knowledgeable coaches.  Throw in an occasional yell at bad officiating and I had my two hour world of complete bliss, a welcome respite from the various things going on in my world.

This is a hectic time of season at work.  Four weeks each year, two in the spring semester and two in the fall semester, I am involved in administering exams to nearly eleven hundred students.  For students and administrators alike, it's a stressful period of time.  One where I desperately look for avenues to decompress.   Thankfully, I can rely on my old friend, college basketball.

I didn't originally plan to attend last night's Fairleigh Dickinson vs. Stony Brook contest.  But when I reviewed yesterday's college basketball schedule, I realized that I could make the game.  Thus, I jumped at the chance to drive out to the campus of Stony Brook.

The last time I was at Stony Brook, I was there in March of 2010 when they hosted a first round NIT game vs. Illinois, due to a conflict with Illinois' home court.   The game was held at Stony Brook Arena, which is now being renovated, That night, it was an entire sea of Seawolves' red,  The game was sold out with both student sections under the baskets packed with SBU fans hungry for a giant RLU.  Stony Brook jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but eventually Illinois overcame an electric partisan Seawolves crowd and won 76-66, spoiling Stony Brook's first ever Division I postseason game.

Stony Brook's opponent last night, FDU, is a school where I have some second person knowledge of their greatest all time basketball player.  Several of my Glen Cove friends, particularly my friend Mal, went to high school with Desi Wilson.  Desi, who is listed at six foot seven and about 230 pounds, was a two sport star at Glen Cove in basketball and baseball.  Mal describes Desi as laid back and very friendly.  Desi went on to star at FDU and was the NEC player of the year for the 1989-1990 season.  That season he averaged over twenty points per game and nine rebounds per game. He is also a member of the NEC's 25th Anniversary Team.

Desi left the Knights after his junior year after being drafted by the Texas Rangers.  He was traded to the San Francisco Giants with Rich Aurilia for John Burkett.  He was a career .300 hitter in the minors and played one season with the Giants in 1996, hitting .271 in 118 at bats.  Unfortunately, Desi didn't hit for much power and was back in the minors the next year.  He had a long successful minor league career and even played overseas.  Due to his ability to hit for average, he ended up becoming a hitting coach and is currently the hitting coach for the Boise Hawks, an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs.

The attendance for last night's contest was nowhere near the 4400 people that attended the Illinois game in March 2010.  Also, due to the arena being renovated, the game was held in the intimate confines of Pritchard Gym, which holds 1700.  Still, there was a good crowd for the game.  And again, there was a good amount of red in the stands, not just from the students, but from alumni and families that came to the game.  I was impressed with the support the Seawolves were getting and they didn't let their fans down.

The teams both struggled from the field in the first half but seemingly for different reasons.   Stony Brook played tough defense on FDU and caused numerous Knights' turnovers, twelve in the first half.  Meanwhile, the Seawolves were missing several open shots.   Stony Brook was only up two, 20-18 with five and half minutes left before they finished the half on a 10-4 run due in large part to guard Dave Coley.   The score at the half was SBU 30 FDU 22.  The Knights were fortunate to be only down eight thanks to their forward George Goode, who had eight points and eight rebounds in the first half.

Surprisingly there was no halftime entertainment, so the fans were left to their own devices.  In my case, it was a celebrity sighting.  Mick Foley, WWE wrestling star, lives in Stony Brook and sure enough he was at the game.  He spoke to the Stony Brook radio crew during halftime.  Alas, there was no confirmed sighting of Mr. Socko at the game.

No doubt spurred on by the appearance of Mr. Foley, the Seawolves came out and blitzed the Knights at the start of the second half.  Stony Brook started nailing those open jumpers and when they missed, they grabbed offensive rebounds and got second chance points.  Meanwhile, FDU committed five turnovers and missed on their first nine field goal attempts.  Barely six minutes into the second half, SBU was up twenty, 44-24.

And it didn't get any better for the Knights.  They only scored five points over the next seven minutes.  The score was now 57-29 with seven minutes left in the game. Yes, a lot of this had to do with Fairleigh Dickinson not being a good team whatsoever.  Even Desi Wilson in his prime couldn't have helped the Knights to a victory last night.

But Steve Pickiell's Seawolves played really hard for the entire forty minutes.  You could see why Stony Brook won the America East regular season title in the 2009-10 season and came within an eyelash of defeating Boston University in the America East championship game last season.  They continued to play tough defense even up by twenty eight points.

Pickiell worked the referees the entire night, getting underneath their skins.  After one conversation with an official, Pickiell walked away.  The official then shook his head in disbelief.  The Seawolves' head coach was as relentless as his team was last night.

When the game is for all intensive purposes over, you look for other things to keep you interested during the last few minutes  First, during the next to last TV timeout, the dance team brought out lots of kids from the crowd to dance to "Cotton Eyed Joe".  Then a few minutes later, as Goode attempted a free throw, the Seawolves mascot, Wolfie, shook a "Shake Weight" to try to distract him.  It didn't work, but it had to be the most creative distraction and best use of a "Shake Weight" so far this basketball season.

The Seawolves would end up winning 70-46.  Coley led all scorers with sixteen points.  Goode had a double double for the Knights scoring thirteen points and grabbing eleven rebounds.  FDU had more turnovers, twenty one, than field goals, seventeen.  You're not going to win too many games with stats like that.

As I headed for the exit, Mick Foley was still sitting in his seat, shaking hands with fans.  I came up to him and shook his hand as well, an added bonus to a fun night.   Once again, college basketball was a welcome respite to a long day.

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