Thursday, March 24, 2011

College Basketball is the Tie That Binds

For the past couple of years, I had been trying to get my older son Matthew to come to see Hofstra Men's or Iona Women's basketball games with me.  Matthew liked shooting hoops in the backyard with his four foot  Little Tykes basketball hoop.  But each time I would ask, he would say something like "No, I would rather stay home and be with mommy and Jonathan."  And I understood. You can't force someone not to do something they don't want to do.  And I certainly don't want to do that to my two children.

But on February 15, 2011, my birthday, as a birthday present to me, my older son went with me to the William and Mary vs Hofstra game at the Mack Center.  It turned out if there was any game that I could have picked to bring Matthew that was the game.  A high scoring affair with Quinn McDowell dueling with Charles Jenkins.  And as most people know, Jenkins forced overtime with a long three, then won the game in overtime with an even longer three.

Due to the excitement of the game, the raucous Lions Den section (who gets a big assist here), Matthew was hooked.  Long before Jenkins had tied the game with that three pointer at the end of regulation, Matthew turned to me and said "I want to go to another basketball game."   For someone who truly loves college basketball, to hear that, especially on my birthday, it was one of the most special moments so far of being his dad.   And I didn't realize how much he was hooked.

For all of his five plus years on this planet, Matthew Patrick Moore when he likes something gets completely involved.  I remember when he was just two years old, we took him to a Mets game. And there he was in his seat, completely focused on the pitcher and the catcher.  And he would mimic how the catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher.  It was impressive.

When Matthew got home that night on February 15, he told my wife how much he loved the basketball game he saw.  He immediately grabbed one of his basketballs in the house and started dribbling.  And dribbling and dribbling.  When he was outside, all he wanted to do was play basketball.  On Monday, I saw him do a normal crossover dribble.  When I asked Chelle where did that come from, my wife says "he really studies how they play."

Matthew went with me to the final Hofstra home season game vs. Delaware, Senior Day where Charles Jenkins had his number retired.  After he got home from that impressive win, everything was Hofstra.  He played as "Hofstra" and he would shoot baskets saying "Hofstra is up 8-2".   Basketball was now in his blood.

I kept him updated on Hofstra when they played in the CAA Tournament.  I told him about the win over William and Mary and the sad news when Old Dominion beat Hofstra in the CAA Semifinals.   He so wanted to see another Hofstra game but when Evansville (with an assist from the Missouri Valley officiating crew) beat Hofstra, their season was over.   Even though Hofstra lost, he still wanted to see another college basketball game.

During the NCAA Tournament, I had Matthew rooting for Richmond, Butler and VCU.  On Friday night, he stayed up with me for the first half of Georgetown-VCU.  My wife had to shoo him off to bed with him protesting that he wanted to stay up and watch the game with me.  I told him I would leave him a note of who won since I had to work early Saturday morning.  Sure enough on our little whiteboard on the refrigerator I wrote "Matthew, VCU Won!!!!!"

Since I couldn't watch most of the Saturday day and evening games due to work and a baseball auction, I gave him a homework assignment to watch the Richmond and Butler games and keep me informed.  I did get to see the end of the Butler- Pitt game, but when I got home, Matthew told me the good news about that and Richmond.   On Sunday, Matthew watched the VCU-Purdue game with me.  When Bradford Burgess hit his first three to put VCU up early, Matthew exclaimed "I love it!!"   To me, that was awesome.

Meanwhile Iona had lost in the MAAC finals to St Peter's, a team that I had seen get crushed by the Gaels in New Rochelle.   Iona then accepted a bid to the College Insider Tournament, otherwise known as the CIT, or as Kyle Whelliston calls it "Bracketbusters From Hell".   Iona had a first round bye, then smoked Valpo in the second round.   My friend Tony Bozzella informed me that if Buffalo won at Western Michigan, Iona would get a home game vs. Buffalo.  Sure enough, Buffalo upset Western Michigan and Iona had a home game last night.

I told Matthew as soon as I could and he told all his friends at school and the teaching assistant Joe at his after school program on Monday and Tuesday that he was going.  Then during the day on Tuesday, my wife informed me via phone call that Matthew suffered a bloody nose while playing basketball outside with a friend in the afterschool program (they banged heads).  But Matthew was fine and told my wife so on the phone.  When I picked him up later, there was no evidence that he was hurt and he told me he was fine.

So after my wife got home, Matthew and I headed off to New Rochelle.  It was the fourth time this season I would see the men's basketball team play.  And each time I saw them, they had won convincingly.  In late December, I saw Iona soundly defeat Hofstra.  Then in early January, I saw the Gaels defeat the Peacocks of St Peter's by eighteen (but as noted, St Peter's would gain revenge in the MAAC Championship game).  Finally, I saw Iona defeat Siena in a sold out doubleheader game at the Hynes Center in mid February.  Would Matthew and I see another Gael win?

The Gaels were taking on the Bulls of Buffalo.   The Bulls lost to Kent State in the second round of the MAC Tournament.  As I tried to tell Matthew, it was a battle of the MAAC vs the MAC.  As much as I tried to explain it, Matthew's eyes glazed over and he just wanted the game to start.   But first, Mr. Defiantly Dutch, Jerry Beach was there to do a story on the game and he came by to say to the both of us. Meanwhile we ended up sitting next to Coach Bozzella and his assistant, Lauren DeFalco.

From the start of the game,  Iona pressed Buffalo and the Bills struggled with it from the outset.   The Gaels forced three turnovers in about a minute and went up 6-0.  But Buffalo hung in there and outscored Iona 10-2 to go up 10-8.  Matthew tried his best by hexing the Bulls when they were on offense, but his jinx attempts were to no avail.

The two teams changed leads several times in the first half.  Iona went back ahead 13-10.  Then Buffalo rallied and were up by as many as four, 21-17.  The Gaels came back with a 9-0 run to go up 26-21.  But the Bulls came back with a 10-1 run to go up 31-27.  Finally Iona came back again and went into the half up 41-36.   Javon McCrea, a freshman forward, put on a show the first half going 7 of 10 from the field for 16 points.   But Sean Armand had 11 of his own for Iona.

One of the things I enjoy most about Iona men's basketball games is their pep band.   Of course they do classics like Edgar Winter's Frankenstein and Led Zeppelin's Immigrant song.  But they also do a terrific version of Steely Dan's Peg, which Mr. Beach can attest to as well.   And the pep band also plays the I Dream of Jeannie theme song, as well as the Wild Wild West television show theme song.   Old School, gotta love it.

For the first eleven minutes of the second half, the teams played even as Iona still had only a five point lead, 54-49 as McCrea did his best to keep the Bulls in the game.   During those first eleven minutes, McCrea had eight of the Bulls thirteen second half points to keep the deficit within five with nine minutes left in the game.

But as my son dutifully kept track of the score and gave me updates, Iona started to pull away over the final nine minutes, in large part due to one Jermel Jenkins.    Jenkins hit three three pointers and scored eleven of the Gaels next fifteen points as the Gaels went up 67-53 with 5:06 left.  Several of the 1,638 in attendance started up chants of "I-O-N-A  IONA GAELS" knowing the end was coming soon for Buffalo.

Buffalo did go on a 5-0 mini spurt to cut the lead to nine, 67-58 with 3:30 left.  But inexplicably, Buffalo did not foul over the next minute and a half, then started fouling with 1:50 left.   Iona would hit four three throws and a monster dunk by Glover and the Gaels were up fifteen 75-60 with 57 seconds.  Yet the Bulls, who didn't want to foul when the game was within nine, started fouling the rest of the way with the outcome already decided.  So instead of letting the clock run out, Buffalo prolonged the fans agony over the final few seconds.

The game would end as Matthew happily pronounced the final score to me 78-63 for "our team", Iona.  McCrea who didn't miss a shot in the second half led all scorers with 29 points on 13 of 16 shooting from the field.  Jenkins had 23 points and was 7 of 11 from beyond the arc.  Despite seemingly being everywhere on the offensive end, Michael Glover only had 8 points.  Iona also forced 20 Buffalo turnovers.

Matthew and I said our goodbyes to Jerry and headed home.  Along the way, Matthew asked when our next basketball game was going to be.  I told him that it may have been the last live game of the season unless Iona got another home game in the championship of the CIT.   He was disappointed but he understood

When we got home, Matthew proudly told his mom that his team won tonight and gave the score.   Then he grabbed his basketball and started dribbling in the living room.  Later sitting on the couch with my wife and me as we watched TV, he told us that when he grew up he wanted to be a basketball player.

When I heard that, I just smiled.   I don't know what he will be when he grows up.  But I know right now he is enjoying himself and he loves college basketball, just like his dad.   And to me, that's the coolest thing on the planet.

No comments:

Post a Comment