Saturday, March 9, 2013

It's All About Family (Recap of Mississippi State v. South Carolina)

On February 21 at about 5:00 PM, our house in New York finally was sold. The house closing was over. We were officially no longer North Bellmore, New York residents.   The house closing was six months and three days after I had first driven down to South Carolina with my two door Honda Accord packed to the hilt to start my new job at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

Over those six months, there were many lonely evenings spent in a rented three bedroom two bathroom house in Columbia wondering if February 21 would ever occur. My wife and two sons were up in North Bellmore while I was down here. Nothing like paying a mortgage and a house rent, hoping all along that there would be no catastrophic events that would cancel the house sale.  Despite an awful first house appraiser and the delays resulting from that, eventually the house sale went through.

During this time period, I tried to get up to New York whenever I could. The Friday night 7:15 PM Jet Blue flight from Terminal D, Gate Four at Charlotte International Airport became my best friend.  A few more flights and I should be good for a free flight based on True Blue points.

During this college basketball season, I went to whatever games I could. When I was up in New York, I went to Stony Brook, Iona men's and Iona women's games and of course, Hofstra. I even was able to go to a tripleheader in Brooklyn. In my last trip to New York, I was able to fulfill a life long dream and be a color analyst on the broadcast of the Canisius vs. Iona women's basketball game. It was a lot of fun being part of a three man booth with the terrific team of Nick Guerriero and Jonathan Stanko.  A few days later, I got to see George Mason vs. Hofstra and even got to spend time with Defiantly Dutch and Hofstra Coach Mo Cassara.

Back down here in South Carolina, I went to several Davidson games, several Charlotte games, even got to see Coastal Carolina and Wofford home games as well. Another life long dream was fulfilled when I saw Iona's women's team take on Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Most importantly, I got two season tickets for South Carolina games. But the Section 113, Row 21, Seat 18 chair was for the most part unoccupied this season. That's because my color analyst, aka my seven year old son Matthew was still up in New York.

Even with all of the above games I went to, I didn't go to nowhere near as many games as last season. Truth be told, I have not written anywhere as much for my site this season as in seasons past. It's not that I am not following college basketball. In fact, during this college basketball season, I have watched more games on TV and online than ever.  My knowledge of power conference teams is much better than last season when I covered fifty eight mid major games for MidMajority and my site (TMM is missing the Drexel-UMass 2012 NIT Quarterfinal game).  It's just that is that I haven't felt like writing and I haven't felt like attending games live as much as I did in every previous season.

Something, actually, someone important has been missing this season. Someone who made last season so much fun to write about. I quickly realized it's not the same without my color analyst.

Finally, on February 22, my family packed up our Honda CRV as full as we could and took a two day drive down to Columbia. We got down here late Saturday afternoon the next day. Our first dinner in Columbia was Sonic, my wife's first ever time having their fast food. Matthew and Jonathan started school here a few days later and both are already on a baseball team that I coach. I am the head coach of Jonathan's tee ball team and an assistant coach for Matthew's coach pitch team.

A few days ago, I tried to get Matthew to go with me to a Saturday night game at Wofford. But Matthew said he wanted to spend time with Jonathan and mommy. Matthew had been here only a week and was just getting used to being in Columbia. He wasn't yet interested in seeing basketball down here.

Finally last night, ten days after my family got down here, Matthew was ready for some southern fried Division I basketball, in this case SEC style. It was the last home game of the season for the Gamecocks and it was also Senior Night as Lakeem Jackson and Shane Phillips were both playing their last game at Colonial Life Arena.

After we had our tickets scanned by the ushers, we made our way upstairs. At the top of the stairs, members of the Carolina Girls were handing out little headshot signs of Jackson and Phillips. We got a Phillips sign and headed to concessions. I rarely have anything other than water at the concessions stand. But Wednesday night, I had raced home from work, changed, then took Matthew back to the same parking lot I park in for work, without anytime for food. I was starved.

I decided to order a Philly cheese steak sandwich w fries. Turns out they had to make it and it was going to take ten minutes. Being the stat head that he is, Matthew timed how long it took and he noted as they were bringing my sandwich and fries that it was eleven minutes. But a fresh hot cheesesteak sandwich was a lot better than all the Bojangles chicken tender boxes that were sitting a long time under the microwave lights. The sandwich was very good and worth the wait.

As we got to our seats about twenty five minutes before game time, the arena was again as empty as it was twenty five minutes before the game against Missouri I saw last week. But unlike the game against the Tigers, there were no Bulldogs' fans to be found. That's likely due to Mississippi state having three wins in conference, the same number of wins as the Gamecocks. So yes, it was a battle of who could escape the SEC cellar.

It didn't take long for Matthew to be in color analyst mode. He studied the Mississippi State layup drill, then announced that he was better than one of the Bulldogs' players, likely a walk on. Considering they were 3-13 in conference heading into Wednesday night's game, he was probably right.

After both teams finished their last practice drills, they had the Senior Day ceremonies for the two basketball managers, Jackson and Phillips. And it was only fitting that the first Gamecocks' points were scored by Jackson on an old fashioned three point play and then a jumper by Phillips. South Carolina was up 5-2 early.

The Gamecocks would extend their lead to six, 10-4, thanks to the efforts of junior guard Brenton Williams. Williams would first have an assist on Brian Steele's three pointer, then hit his first three pointer on the evening. It would later become a common theme for Williams.

The Bulldogs rallied to tie the game at twelve on a Roquez Johnson three point play. Williams would respond to a three pointer to put the Gamecocks up three, 15-12. South Carolina extended the lead to seven, 23-16 on a Lakeem Jackson jumper with a little less than nine minutes left in the half. During this time, Matthew noted that Jackson's number was not listed on the scoreboard. The always observant seven year old had seen that the scoreboard operator had yet to update the scoreboard to include Jackson.

Mississippi State responded with a 9-2 run over the next four plus minutes. Gavin Ware scored the final four Bulldogs' points during the spurt and his jumper gave Mississippi State their first lead of the game, 26-25 with 4:45 left in the half.

During this time Michael Carrera picked up his second foul. Coach Frank Martin rolled the dice and kept Carrera in the game. Shortly thereafter, Carrera picked up his third foul on a questionable call. He visibly showed his displeasure to the referee, who took offense to that displeasure and called a technical foul on Carrera, his fourth foul of the half. But Williams would score seven of the Gamecocks' last nine points to put South Carolina up 34-32 at the half. Williams entered the half with twelve points

The second half saw the Gamecocks quickly outscore the Bulldogs 11-3 over the first five plus minutes as Williams, Steele and Bruce Ellington combined for all eleven points and three assists. The run would be extended to a 25-5 run over the first eleven plus minutes. South Carolina would be leading 59-37.

This was in large part due to Williams who had the second half and game of his career. During the first twelve plus minutes of the second half, Williams had thirteen of the twenty seven points the Gamecocks scored. With eight minutes left in the game, he already had set a career high with twenty five points.

With South Carolina having a twenty two point lead with nine minutes left in the game over a Mississippi State team that had three conference wins all season, you would have thought the game for all intensive purposes was over. But if you have followed the Gamecocks all season, with the exception of the Arkansas game, nothing ever comes easy for South Carolina.

Sure enough, Mississippi State went on a 26-9 run over the span of six plus minutes. It wasn't like South Carolina was completely missing shots from the field. The Gamecocks actually hit three of seven shots in that span. However they missed three free throws and turned the ball over four times in those six plus minutes. Meanwhile the Bulldogs went ten of thirteen from the field with three three pointers. When Craig Sword hit a jumper with about two and a half minutes left in the game, the Bulldogs had cut the lead to five, 68-63.

But of course, who came to the rescue? Williams. He scored six of the last ten South Carolina points, all from the free throw line, where he was a perfect twelve of twelve on the night. The Gamecocks held on for a 78-72 win over the Bulldogs and for at least until Saturday had escaped the SEC cellar.

Williams was fantastic.  He nearly scored half of the Gamecocks' points with thirty eight points on ten of seventeen shooting, including six of nine from beyond the arc to go with his perfection from the foul line.  He even added four rebounds and three assists.  No other South Carolina player scored in double figures.  Ellington had nine points and six assists on the evening for the Gamecocks. Jackson, in his last home game as a Gamecock, nearly had a double double with nine points and eight rebounds.  Sword led the Bulldogs with twenty points while Jalen Steele added seventeen points.

My original plans for this upcoming weekend was to cover the CAA Tournament in Richmond.  Just like last season, I had arranged for a media pass.  I was looking forward to seeing my friends Brian Mull, Mike Brodsky, Rob Canady, Alan Kelly, Rob Russell and the rest of the CAAHoops gang.

But I had signed up to be an assistant coach for both Jonathan's tee ball team and Matthew's coach pitch team.  I ended up being the head coach of the tee ball team at the league's request because no one else wanted the job and I have had two years experience being a coach at that level in North Bellmore.  I had no idea that Opening Day in our baseball league was Saturday, March 9th.  Thus ended any hope of covering the first day of the CAA Tournament.

I still had a chance to cover the CAA Tournament on Sunday.  But Matthew's team has a practice.  On Tuesday, I sat with Matthew, who loves baseball even more than basketball, and asked him would he be upset if I missed practice to cover the CAA Tournament. He thought for a second and said "I want you to be there. Plus you are a really good coach."

Well that sealed it for me.  No CAA Tournament this season.  After six months of so badly wanting my family to be here with me in South Carolina and finally getting them here, I wasn't about to disappoint my color analyst now. I let Rob Washburn at CAASports know that I wasn't attending.  He understood and said he would save me a seat in Baltimore next year.  I said I will be there, as I already got approval from Matthew for next year.

But for now, my color analyst and his love of baseball come first.  It's all about family and it always will be.

No comments:

Post a Comment