It was about 9:45 AM yesterday, on a crisp Sunday morning in Columbia, South Carolina when Matthew, aka my nine year old color analyst, and I set out on our journey. As I drove our 2008 Honda CRV down Forest Drive heading towards the ramp for I-77 North to Charlotte, we came up on the intersection of Shandon Baptist Church, where Matthew plays for their Upward Bound 4th grade basketball team. A Columbia City Police Officer was in the role of crossing guard, stopping traffic to allow the church's congregation members to turn left into the long church entrance for 10:00 AM mass.
It all started on my birthday on February 15, 2011. I had been a long time season ticket holder for Hofstra and my blog, the College Hardwood was in the midst of its sixth season. But until that day, which happened to be my birthday, Matthew had never gone to a Hofstra basketball game.
are permanently, well hopefully permanently, up on a Hofstra video on YouTube.
That day, which I chronicled in one of my favorite all time articles on my blog, forever changed Matthew. Matthew not only became a die-hard college basketball fan, but a lover of basketball in general. If Matthew isn't playing baseball, his first love, he often has a basketball in his hand. And come January, he will play in organized basketball games for the first time in his life.
as I featured the Binghamton-Hofstra game around his view of a college basketball game.
When we finally moved down to Columbia, South Carolina in February 2013 as a family, after I had been in Columbia for sixth months already, one thing that changed was no longer seeing Hofstra on a regular basis. Matthew and I would see them when we were up in New York to visit, including last season, when they defeated NJIT at the Mack Center. Yes, the same NJIT team that defeated #17 Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.
Appalachian State, Hofstra's opponent on Sunday, is located in Boone, North Carolina, which is a three hour trip from Columbia. Boone is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains and is about 3300 feet above sea level. To get to Appalachian State from Columbia, basically you take I-77 North to I-485 West, to I-85 South and then NC Route 321.
You will also find on Route 321 Tweetsie Railroad and Wild West Theme Park, one of the first theme parks in the United States. The 200 acre theme park is open between April and October and features two vintage steam locomotives, which you can take on a 3 mile ride. The park first opened in 1957.
As I noted previously, on the way to Appalachian State, you also pass through Blowing Rock, a very scenic town, which features "The Blowing Rock", The Blowing Rock is "an immense cliff" that's 4000 feet above sea level and where if you stand on the cliff and throw out a light object over the gorge below, the winds will actually blow the object back to you. Blowing Rock holds several festivals a year, including Winterfest on January 25 and 26,
The impressive Holmes Convocation Center stands at the entrance to the university, It's an 8500 seat all purpose arena that opened in November, 2000 with a basketball game between North Carolina and Appalachian State. The school's colors are gold and black and the inside of the arena holds true to their school colors. If you are a Steelers fan, this is the arena for you.
I parked the CRV in a parking garage on Rivers Street, a five minute walk from the Holmes Dome, as it is affectionately called. When we got to the Northwest entrance, we found several Hofstra fans had made the trip, including three recent Hofstra alums that worked at WRHU and now live in Winston Salem and Durham, North Carolina. They knew me from my tweets with Defiantly Dutch, aka Jerry Beach.
The tickets were left to me by Appalachian State Head Coach Jim Fox. Jim's brother, Jeff played on the last two Hofstra basketball teams to make the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2001. I am friends with Jeff from his student days at Hofstra Law School, where I used to work.
After losing their first two games, the Mountaineers had won three straight games in a row, including an upset win at Virginia Tech. I figured I would see the classic Davidson offense, which prides itself on player and ball movement. Having seen several Davidson games in the past two years, I truly appreciate their style of play.
Well, what we got was somewhat different, but nevertheless fun.
Due to injuries to Rokas Gustys and Moussa Kone, the Pride were down to only two big men, Andre Walker and Malik Nichols. And with the Mountaineers having at least five players that were six foot seven or taller, Hofstra was going to have to work really hard at keeping Appalachian State off the glass.
The Mountaineers would score the next five straight points as Tab Hamilton's three gave App State an 8-7 lead. But the Pride would reel off a 12-2 run over the next four plus minutes. Jamall Robinson's three pointer gave the Pride a 19-10 lead with about ten minutes left in the half.
Basketball is a game of runs and it stood to reason that the Mountaineers would respond. And they did with an 8-0 spurt. Frank Eaves, Appalachian State's leading scorer on the season, would hit one of two free throws to cut the deficit to one, 19-18.
After Bernardi nailed another three to put Hofstra up six, 32-26, Appalachian State made a concerted effort to use their size to their advantage. Spagnolo and Griffin Kinney dominated the smaller Pride lineup over the next three minutes, either scoring or grabbing offensive rebounds at will. They combined for all nine of the Mountaineers' points in that span, with Spagnolo putting Appalachian State ahead 35-34.
The Pride would regain the lead, but they would be hampered by their one negative constant on the season; free throw shooting. Over the next two minutes, Tanksley and Nichols would combine to miss on all four of their free throw attempts. What could have been a nine point lead, was only a five point lead, 42-37, after Nichols hit another layup.
Over the next three and a half minutes, Hofstra would outscore Appalachian State 10-2. They did this by attacking the basket, either by scoring layups or getting fouled. This time, the Pride would hit four of their five free throws; two by Tanksley, two by Green. Tanksley's layup and one gave Hofstra a 54-44 lead with just under four minutes left in the game. Tanksley would miss on the free throw for the three point play, but the damage was done.
The Pride showed nice balance on offense, with five players in double figures scoring. Green led the way with seventeen points, while Tanksley added thirteen. Dion Nesmith came off the bench to score eleven points while Bernardi and Nichols each had ten. What was really impressive was the Pride had twelve assists and only four turnovers, while forcing fifteen Mountaineers' turnovers.
What hurt Appalachian State was the Mountaineers shooting 3 of 17 from beyond the arc. For a Davidson type offense to succeed, there must be solid three point shooting. Coach Fox didn't get it from his team on Sunday and thus struggled offensively. But I am confident over time, his team will succeed as they get used to that style of play.
But Hofstra won and it turned out to be another successful road trip and now I know a little more about western North Carolina. Our next opportunity to see Hofstra is back in New York on December 23 when we are visiting family on Long Island for the holidays starting that prior weekend. The Pride play the Explorers of LaSalle at the Mack Center in what should be another fun contest.
This time we will have a much shorter trip from Levittown to Hempstead to find our religion.