Monday, December 30, 2013

Baby Steps for Seton Hall Women's Team (Recap of Seton Hall v. St John's WBB game)

The Big East started conference play on Saturday in both men's and women's basketball.  And while Villanova and Syracuse were on national TV in a battle of undefeateds, the St John's Women's team hosted Seton Hall's women's team at Carnesecca Arena on ESPN3.  

For my friend Tony Terentieff and I, along with my son Matthew, it was another opportunity to see our good friend Tony Bozzella coach the Pirates, along with seeing his family; his wife Maria, his daughter Samantha, his son Joseph and Coach Bozzella's mom, who were alll in attendance.  Also in attendance, covering the game was my good friend, Jaden Daly. the omnipresence in New York City metro college basketball.  

The Pirates entered the contest vs. the Red Storm with an 8-2 record.  Their only two losses were at #13 South Carolina, where the Pirates only trailed by two at the half and by one point at Illinois, a team that made the WNIT last season.  Meanwhile, the Red Storm came into the game at 6-4.  St John's was coming off a win over nationally ranked Texas A&M 72-70.    

The game also featured the two top leading scorers in the Big East; Aliyyah Handford at 20.8 ppg and Tabatha Richardson-Smith at 20.7 ppg.   Considering both teams' records and a matchup of the two leading scorers in the confierence, it figured to be a close game on Saturday between the two long time Big East members and it turned out to be exactly that.

The start of the game saw Seton Hall struggle from the field as St John's took a 5-0 lead.  But the Pirates responded with an 11-1 run.  Ka-Deidre Simmons scored the last six points of the spurt all on layups to give Seton Hall an 11-6 lead with thirteen and a half minutes left in the first half.   

St John's would battle back and tie the game at sixteen on two jumpers by Jade Walker.  Later with the game tied at twenty, the Red Storm would get back to back three pointers by Danejah Grant and Keylantra Langley to go up 26-20.

The Red Storm would maintain the lead and actually extended it to seven, 37-30.  But the Pirates scored the last four points of the half.   Sidney Cook's jumper would make the score 37-34 after an entertaining first twenty minutes of the game.    The Pirates had ten more field goal attempts than the Red Storm. But the difference in the first half was St John's shooting four of eight from beyond the arc while Seton Hall was one of six.

The start of the second half saw Seton Hall come out with an 8-2 spurt.  Breanna Jones would hit four free throws to cap the run to put the Pirates up 42-39.  St John's would respond by scoring the next six points as Amber Thompson's put them up 45-42.   Seton Hall would follow with four straight points by Bra'shey Ali and Simmons to go back up 46-45 with 12:49 left in the game.

St John's would take the lead on a Grant three pointer to go up 48-46.  After another Red Storm basket put them up four,  Simmons hit Richardson-Smith with a pretty bounce pass for an assist to cut the lead to two, 50-48.   However, Grant would later follow up with a layup and two free throws to extend the St John's lead to five, 54-49.   The Red Storm would go up by as much as seven, 58-51 with seven minutes left in the game.

Then came the turning point in the game.  After Ali hit a jumper to cut the Red Storm lead to five, 58-53, Langley missed a three for St John's.  Seton Hall grabbed the rebound and Cook appeared to hit a layup and one as the Red Storm player was moving her feet as Cook drove up for the layup.  However, the referee wrongly thought otherwise and called an offensive foul on Cook.  Instead of a chance to cut the lead to two with a layup and one free throw, the Red Storm maintained a five point lead, which they extended to seven, 60-53 on two free throws by Brianna Brown.

A Langley three extended the Red Storm lead to eight, 63-55 with a little under five minutes left.  But the Pirates refused to quit and scored six of the next eight points to trim the lead to four, 65-61 on a Cook Jumper with a little over two and a half minutes left.   

But failing to defend the three pointer, which had been Seton Hall's biggest problem all day, would come back to haunt them one final time.  With two seconds left on the shot clock, Brown buried a three pointer to put St John's up 68-61.    The Red Storm would win the game 72-63.

In a game that featured the two leading scorers in the Big East, the irony was that neither player was much of a factor in the game.  Handford was one of seven from the floor and only scored four points.  Meanwhile, Richardson-Smith was four of eleven from the floor and only scored nine points.  

Brown led all scorers with twenty points, while Grant and Langley each had sixteen points.  The Red Storm shot seven of fourteen from beyond the arc and forty four percent from the field for the game.  They also had seventeen assists, though they also had eighteen turnovers.

The Pirates were led by Ali with seventeen points.  Simmons, who was a wizard all day with the ball, added fourteen points, had five assists and even more impressively zero turnovers.   Cook finished with a double double with eleven points and fourteen rebounds.   Since they only committed nine turnovers,  the Pirates had nineteen more field goal attempts than the Red Storm.  However, they couldn't take advantage of it from the field.   The Pirates shot one of eleven from beyond the arc and thirty four percent from the field, including twenty seven percent in the second half.

It was a tough loss for the Pirates.  But it was only their third loss in the season and again, Seton Hall was very competitive against good competition.  Considering where the program has been in the last few seasons, this is a step in the right direction in Bozzella's first year at the helm.

After the game, we hung around the lobby of Carnesecca Arena, saying our goodbyes to the Bozzella family and to Pirates Assistant Coach, the awesome Lauren DeFalco.   I never got a chance to say goodbye to Coach Bozzella, who know doubt was answering all of Jaden Daly's good questions in the press conference.   Tieff, Matthew and I had to run, since we had to get to the Barclay's Center for the rest of the tripleheader.   

That's always been the beauty of college basketball season in New York.  If you time it right on a weekend, you can catch two, even three Division I games on the same day if you try hard enough That's because there is more than enough NYC local basketball to go around.   And the basketball, whether it's men's or women's basketball is usually very entertaining.  

Such was the case on Saturday.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Night of Havoc in Brooklyn (Recap of Boston College vs. VCU)

After having watched St John's defeat Seton Hall at Carnesecca Arena in the first Big East Women's Basketball Conference game for both teams,  my friend Tony Terentieff (aka Tieff), my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew and I headed off to Mineola train station to take a train ride to Atlantic Terminal to see the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival Tripleheader at the Barclays Center.

We got there at halftime of the Tulane-Kansas State game, the second game of the holiday hoops trifecta.  After grabbing dinner at the Brooklyn Burger concessions stand, we headed to our seats in Section 20, Row 17.   Shortly after we got there, once again we ran into my good friend, Jaden Daly, who just got there himself after covering the St John's-Seton Hall game as well.  Jaden was kind enough to let me charge my iPhone after I stupidly left my car charger in my car back in Levittown at my in-laws' house. 

Not too long after, John Templon of Big Apple Buckets joined us and we had a reunion of local New York basketball bloggers.  It was a good talk about local metro NYC area basketball, specifically NEC, MAAC and Ivy League basketball as John and Jaden traded their scheduled game coverage for the next few weeks.  I just sat and admired as they talked about the games they were planning to cover, as I miss being able to cover several New York games in a week.  We also talked about how ridiculously good Stony Brook's Jameel Warney is and whether the Ivy can be a two bid conference this season (Harvard and Princeton).  

After Jaden and John said their goodbyes to go cover the remaining twenty minutes of the Tulane game as well as the BC-VCU game,  Matthew, Tieff and I watched the second half of the Green Wave-Wildcats game.  Tulane was playing in its second Winter Hoops Festival in a row, having routed Hofstra last year.  This year, the Green Wave had scored a whopping ten points in the first half.    Tulane scored the first five points of the second half to cut the lead to thirteen, 28-15, as they finally figured out that they should drive the lane against the Wildcats.   

Alas, Kansas State was toying with Tulane, as the Wildcats outscored the Green Wave 44-26 the rest of the second half to win convincingly 72-41.   Shane Southwell, a local kid from Harlem that former K-State coach Frank Martin recruited to Manhattan, Kansas, returned to Brooklyn to lead the Wildcats with 19 points.  Southwell hit five of nine shots from beyond the arc as Kansas State shot twelve of twenty seven from three point land.  The Wildcats also had nineteen assists and thirteen steals.

The lone hightlight for the Green Wave fans in our section was that after much chanting, seldom used, senior guard Max Keenan entered the game late for Tulane.   Most likely, his fans were family and they were excited after Keenan fired an open look three in the last minute of the game.   Much to his fans' dismay, Keenan's shot was slightly off the mark.   Kansas State junior guard Shane Meyer, also seldom used, hit a pretty up and under layup and one, much to the delight of the Wildcats' bench.  Meyer hit the free throw to make the final score margin thirty one points.   It was the most points Meyer had scored in a game in his three year career at Kansas State.

During the break between games,  Tieff, Matthew and I went to get dessert.  There is a Junior's Cheesecake/Blue Marble Custard concession stand at Barclay's.  Tieff wanted the custard, but not having Junior's cheesecake in ages,  I had the Devil's Food Cheesecake.  I think I won out on the dessert match-up.

I didn't see the St John's- Columbia game, but having seen Tulane-Kansas State, it looked like VCU brought the only pep band.  But if you're going to have only one pep band play at the Winter Hoops Festival, you might as well have THE PEP BAND to play at the tripleheader.  Known as "The Peppas", the VCU pep band is simply the best college basketball pep band in the country (with George Mason's pep band a close second).   On the evening, the Peppas started with Toto's "Africa", did an amazing version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" and of course, "You Don't Want to Go To War", along with a lot of other great versions of songs.

The Rams entered the game 10-3 on the season, which certainly is a solid record.  But VCU had entered the season nationally ranked and a lot is expected of the Rams this season.   Much of it is due to their talent and experience, as well as the fact that the Rams have been very successful the past three NCAA Tournaments under Shaka Smart.   Also, the expectations are based on their unique, aggressive press defense, known as "Havoc".  Entering the game, VCU was first in the country in steals, averaging over twelve steals per game.  The Rams also entered the game averaging +7.8 in turnover margin.  The problem for VCU has been taking advantage of that turnover margins, as they are eleventh in the A-10 in shooting percentage at 42.4 percent.

On the other hand, Boston College had entered the game struggling at 4-8.   Steve Donahue, who led Cornell to three straight Ivy League Championships and a Sweet 16 in 2010, is in his fourth season as head coach of the Eagles.  In his first season, Donahue led BC to a second round NIT appearance, but it has been downhill since with a 9-22 record in 2011-12 and 16-17 last season. 

Early on in the game, both teams struggled to score points.  Due to "Havoc", Boston College kept turning the ball over.  However, VCU could not take advantage due to poor shooting and poor shot selection.  At one point, Mike Litos noted that the Rams has forced ten turnovers but only scored five points on those turnovers.  This was due to VCU taking too many three pointers.  The Rams were three of fifteen in the first half from beyond the arc.

The Eagles jumped out to an 8-3 lead early.  After a quick VCU timeout, the Rams responded with a 7-0 spurt to take a 10-8 lead.  BC tied it up at ten on another Ryan Anderson dunk, his third of the game, all of those came about when the Eagles were able to break the press.  After eight and a half minutes, the game was tied at ten.  The bright side was that both teams had already matched Tulane's output for the entire first half of their game.

The rest of the first half would be mini spurts.  VCU would go on a 6-0 mini spurt to take a 16-10 lead. BC responded with a 7-0 run to take a 17-16 advantage.  But the Rams would score the last six points to enter the half up 22-17.

At halftime, I met up with my friend and VCU's most famous fan, Chris "Pav" Crowley.   As I noted to DefiantlyDutch in a tweet, Pav can be seen everywhere with his Ram horns.   Pav got his nickname due to his terrific opera voice and his Pavarotti looks.   It was good catching up with him and we got this picture together.  Pav hilariously noted later in a tweet that the backdrop of our picture was the best photobomb ever.  

Coach Smart must have said something to his team at halftime, because the Rams went inside in the second half.  In the first half, Rams forwards Treveon Graham and Juvante Reddic, the two leading scorers for VCU, combined for only four points.  In the first few minutes of the second half, Graham had two layups and Reddic added another during a 11-4 spurt to put the Rams up 33-21.  

After the BC got within nine points, 35-26,  VCU went on a 14-1 run over the span of three minutes.  Reddic's layup and put the Rams up twenty points.  Then Melvin Johnson forced the Eagles's sixth turnover of the second half and his layup capped the run to put VCU up 49-27 with 10:45 left in the game.  

It was clear before the start of the game that the majority of fans that were left in the building were wearing the gold and black of VCU.   And with the huge run by the Rams, their fans turned the Barclays Center into the Richmond Coliseum during VCU's days in the CAA Tournament.  And things got worse for the few BC fans left in attendance when Graham buried a three pointer to put the Rams up twenty six, 65-39 with four and a half minutes left in the game.  It was clearly evident to me that VCU had the superior talent, athleticism and aggressiveness over an ACC team.  It was only two seasons ago that the Rams were still in the CAA.

All that was left was both teams clearing their benches and an 11-4 Eagles' game ending spurt to make the game ending margin closer than it was for a good part of the second half.   The Peppas played a set to close out the festivities and a VCU 69-50 win.  

Reddic (14 points) and Graham (13 points) combined for 23 second half points.  Rob Brandenburg added 13 points and Melvin Johnson had 12 points for the Rams.  VCU had 11 steals, forced 23 BC turnovers, and held the Eagles to 38 percent shooting, including 3 of 18 from beyond the arc.

Oliver Hanlan led BC and all scorers with 17 points.  Anderson added 13 points for the Eagles.  BC is now headed into ACC play with a 4-9 record.   VCU starts their A-10 season with an 11-3 record.

As Matthew, Tieff and I headed out of the Barclays Center, we were glad in the fact that for the second year in a row, we got to see multiple college basketball games on a cold late December day.  Nothing warms you up during the holiday season like seeing college basketball and reuniting with good friends. 

And considering we saw VCU, there's also nothing like a little Havoc during the holiday season.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Elite Program Grows in Stony Brook (Recap of Cornell v. Stony Brook)

When we planned our holiday vacation trip up to New York to visit family and friends, we had split the trip into two days, as we always do when we drive from Columbia to New York and vice versa.  Since we could only leave late Saturday afternoon, we made our halfway point Richmond.   That meant that the rest of the trip on Sunday, if all went well, would be six hours.  We left Richmond at 8:00 A.M. because I had plans that involved seeing one of my favorite college basketball teams Sunday evening.   

But if anyone knows I-95, the New Jersey Turnpike or Belt Parkway well, what should be a six hour trip often turns out to be a longer excursion due to delays.  We briefly got caught up around Landover, Maryland due to rubbernecking from an accident going the opposite direction as well as a nasty rainstorm.  Then on the Jersey Turnpike, a much longer delay due to the same thing, rubbernecking from an accident in the opposite direction.   Then at the Belt Parkway, the longest delay due to nothing more than traffic.  Typical for the Belt.  In total, an hour and 15 minutes of delays.

When I got to my wife's parents in Levittown at about 4:15 yesterday, I was very frustrated, figuring that it would take me 45 minutes to get to Stony Brook and that I wouldn't make the 5:00 P.M. start of Cornell vs. Stony Brook.

Thankfully, there was one thing wrong in this scenario that actually worked in my favor.  The Cornell - Stony Brook game actually started at 6:00 P.M.   So once I happily realized that fact, I made the drive to Stony Brook in 45 minutes.  I was very grateful to see one of the best mid major college basketball programs in the country, a program I covered many times in the recent years before I moved to South Carolina.

Steve Pikiell was named head coach of Stony Brook in 2005.  In his first three seasons, the Seawolves combined record was 20-67.   Wisely, the Stony Brook administration stuck with Pikiell and they were rewarded with a 16-14 record in the 2008-09 season.  Then in 2009-10, the Seawolves went 22-10, won the America East Regular season championship and received their first ever NIT bid.   In 2010-11, though Stony Brook slipped to 15-17, they made the America East Tournament Championship and came within a whisker of knocking off Boston University.  In each of the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Stony Brook again won the regular season America East Championship and received a NIT bid.   In the two previous seasons, the Seawolves are a combined 47-18 as well as 28-4 in regular season America East play.

As I noted in a previous post, it was good to be back seeing New York basketball in a small gym/arena.  As I entered the Stony Brook Athletic Center, the basketball gods were kind to me.    Seeing I needed a ticket, a season ticket holder had an extra ticket and offered it to me for $10, $4 less than the normal cost.  I gladly obliged and then when I found my seat, it was basically center court in a gym that was nicely packed considering it was the weekend before Christmas.

Sunday, the Seawolves hosted the Big Red of Cornell.   Considering the season, Pritchard Gym seemed very festive as it was a sea of red.   Stony Brook was looking for its ninth win of the season.  Meanwhile, Cornell, which went to three straight NCAA Tournaments and a Sweet 16 in the 2009-10 season under former coach Steve Donahue, has fallen on hard times.  The Big Red have not had a winning season since that magical 2009-10 season and came into yesterday's game winless at 0-10 on the season.

The Seawolves jumped out quickly to an 8-0 lead. It was due in large part to the best big man in local tri state college basketball, Jameel Warney.   A fan sitting next to me said it best "Warney is all over the place".  Early on, he was, whether it was scoring underneath, grabbing a rebound or boxing out an opponent on a loose ball.    The Seawolves extended it to a 15-3 lead on a Carson Puriefoy steal and layup. 

But the Big Red would respond with a 15-3 run of their own to tie the game at eighteen on a Dominick Scelfo jumper.  Cornell did this by moving the ball around really well on offense.   At that point, the Big Red didn't seem like a winless team to me.  

Stony Brook would answer with a 20-6 spurt to end the half.  The Seawolves started the run by working the ball into Warney for an easy layup.  Then Dave Coley and Eric McAlister each had a three pointer.  Finally, Stony Brook was a perfect eight for eight from the free throw line during that seven minute stretch.   Still, Coach Pikiell was not pleased to give up an easy layup right at the end of the half.   The Seawolves went into halftime up 38-24.

At halftime, I met up with Carson Puriefoy's dad, Carson Puriefoy Sr, a star guard in his own right at Bucknell.  I've got to known him through my blog and he's just a terrific person.   Carson was kind enough to ask the new Interim Athletic Director of Stony Brook, Donna Woodruff to give us a tour of the new Stony Brook Arena, which is located right across from Pritchard Gym in the Athletic Center.    She was very gracious, giving us her time to get the door unlocked and gave us a tour of the new facility.  

The arena, which will open in Fall 2014, simply looks fantastic.   It has two large video screens and two large scoreboards, one of each on each end of the court.  There is a lot of individual seating, luxury box suites and what will be a huge concessions stand.   From where we were standing, there is a perfect sightline for a camera shot of the arena floor.  It's simply going to be a first class arena.

After the tour, I got back to my seat a few minutes into the second half.  As I sat down, I saw that the Seawolves had extended their lead to sixteen, 43-27 with sixteen minutes left in the game.  The lead would grown even further the next few minutes, as Puriefoy would bury a three to give Stony Brook a 48-27 lead.  

The Big Red would cut lead down to sixteen, 48-32 with fifteen minutes left.  But Puriefoy would find Warney with a really nice pass for a layup and one, his first of two three point plays in a 21-7 run over eight minutes that put the game away for the Seawolves.  A McAlister three pointer gave Stony Brook a 69-39 lead with a little under eight minutes left. 

During this run, the Seawolves showed good ball movement and balanced scoring on offense, while showing their trademark defense and rebounding.   Having watched enough college basketball over the years, I can honestly say that I have not seen a team with better help defense than Stony Brook under Pikiell.   The Seawolves just converge on the ball.  Also, they box out very well on rebounding.  The Seawolves outrebounded Cornell yesterday 47-32.

Unlike a FDU team that I saw on this same court over two years ago,  Cornell did not give up.  The Big Red went on a 15-4 run to cut the lead to nineteen, 73-54 with two plus minutes left in the game.  I assure you Big Red fans, Cornell will not go winless this season.

It was at this time that Pikiell emptied his bench.  Seldom used Kameron Mitchell ended the scoring with a pretty up and under bank shot to give Stony Brook a 76-54 win.  

The Seawolves got balanced scoring as four of their players scored in double figures.  Coley, who scored his 1000th career point during the game, led all scorers with fifteen points.  Warney added fourteen points and seven rebounds, Puriefoy added thirteen points off the bench and Ahmad Walker added twelve points.  Had it not been for missing both free throws at the line late in the game, McAlister would have had a double double as well.  He finished with nine points and eleven rebounds.  Devin Cherry and Daryl Smith led Cornell with eleven points each.

As I left Pritchard Gym, I came away impressed with Stony Brook.  But it was not just the basketball team, it was the entire athletics program.   Over the past few years under Jim Fiore and now Donna Woodruff, Stony Brook has had a football team become a power in the FCS, a baseball team that made the College World Series, a basketball team that has made the NIT in three of the last four seasons, a new weight room and soon a new basketball arena.   

When I told my friend and fellow Little League coach in Columbia Chris Moseley that I was going to see Stony Brook play Sunday, he asked me how the basketball team compared to the baseball team.   The Seawolves Athletic Program is that well known now.   If Pikiell can lead the Seawolves to their first ever NCAA berth, the program will get even more recognition. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Gamecocks' Struggles Continue (Recap of USC Upstate vs. South Carolina)

After their eighteen point loss to Manhattan at home Tuesday night, which was their second double digit loss in a row, you thought things could not get worse for South Carolina.  Then yesterday afternoon, word came out that Michael Carrera was suspended for the afternoon game vs. USC Upstate, due to a "post-game altercation".  Carrera had just finally got going for the Gamecocks, scoring ten points in the second half vs. the Jaspers.  The Carrera suspension turned out to be a harbinger for the game against the Spartans.

South Carolina definitely knew their opponent was capable of winning on the road.  USC Upstate won their first game of the season at Virginia Tech 64-63.  The 5-5 Spartans also had neutral site wins over Niagara and Western Carolina.  They lost only by nine points at Tennessee.  Plus the Spartans had three players that averaged in double figures; Torrey Craig, Ty Greene and Ricardo Glenn, who combined average nearly forty five points and fifteen rebounds per game.

Perhaps Frank Martin thought his team might better respond to the Manhattan loss if they were the road team. So he had his Gamecocks dress in road black while USC Upstate wore the home whites.

The road uniforms did not bring any luck early in the contest as it seemed that there was a giant lid on both baskets.  After six plus minutes, USC Upstate was only up 5-4.   Each team missed on nine of their first eleven shots.   The Gamecocks also had three turnovers in the span of forty seconds.

Finally, South Carolina got going on a three pointer by Sindarius Thornwell.  It was the start of a 13-1 run for the Gamecocks.  A Laimonas Chatkevicius tip in put South Carolina up 17-6.  During that stretch, Chatkevicius, Thornwell and Duane Notice combined for all thirteen points.

After a couple of Craig free throws cut the lead to nine, the Gamecocks responded with another spurt.  South Carolina buried three shots from beyond the arc in a five and a half minute period, with Brenton Williams hitting two three pointers.  Mindaugas Kacinas hit one of two free throws to cap the 16-8 run as the Gamecocks went up 33-16 with 4:51 left in the half.

Just then I was about to type the following tweet on @gmoore21566 - "I know USC Upstate won at Virginia Tech.  But based on the first 15 minutes, I cannot see how they did."   And it was due in large part to the Spartans horrible shot selection.   Greene, the Spartans' second leading scorer missed all four of his three point attempts.  Craig was taking wild shots, which obviously were also not falling.

But still I thought better of sending the tweet because a) basketball is a game of runs and b) South Carolina has shown a propensity to go into a major scoring funk and give up early leads (see Manhattan).

I was so glad I held off on that tweet.   Over the last four minutes, the Spartans went on a 17-4 run.  Ricardo Glenn was getting easy looks inside for layups while Craig, Fred Miller and Karim Mawuenyega nailed three pointers.   Meanwhile, the Gamecocks missed nine of their eleven shots during that period of time and Thornwell added two turnovers to boot.  South Carolina stumbled to the half only up four, 37-33.

There were two underlying problems brewing for the Gamecocks at halftime.  First, the South Carolina bigs had foul trouble. Desmond Ringer and Demetrius Henry each picked up two quick fouls and Chatkevicius picked up three fouls.  With Carrera already out, the Gamecocks had only one forward not in foul trouble, Kacinas and he was the smallest of all their forwards.

Second, the Spartans were only down four, despite not getting any production from their second leading scorer.  Greene, who came into the game averaging fifteen points per game, was scoreless in the first twenty minutes.  Glenn, who had ten first half points and Craig with nine, made up for the lack of production from Greene, who seemingly graduated from the John Starks School of Shooting ("If you miss several times, no matter how ugly, keep on shooting").

The Gamecocks started out well in the second half with Ellington burying a three to put his team up seven.  Later, Tyrone Johnson added two free throws to extend the South Carolina lead to eight, 42-34 with fifteen minutes left in the game.  It looked like that maybe Frank Martin's team had weathered the Spartans' big run.

But then in the span of minute, Henry picked up two fouls, giving him four on the game.  Then Ringer, who had already picked up his third foul two minutes into the second half,  picked up his fourth foul with a little under thirteen minutes left. Chatkevicius would pick up his fourth foul four minutes later.  Outside of Kacinas, the whole Gamecock front court was in serious foul trouble.

And the Spartans took advantage, going on a 12-3 run over the next four minutes.  Greene started the scoring, hitting his first basket of the game, a three pointer.  The rest of the USC Upstate points were scored on layups.  A ShunQuez Stephens layup put the Spartans up 46-45.

The Gamecocks regained the lead on a Thornwell jumper, then two Johnson free throws put them up three, 49-46.  The Spartans answered with a Mawuenyega three and a free throw each by Miller and Stephens to go up 51-49.  Williams and Thornwell responded with three free throws and the Gamecocks were back up one, 52-51 with seven and a half minutes left.

But the Spartans three leading scorers on the season, Craig, Greene and Glenn would combine forces to put the game away for USC Upstate.  Glenn, having his way inside with all the Gamecock foul trouble, hit a layup to put the Spartans up to stay, 53-52.  It was the start of a 10-2 spurt that ended with an emphatic Craig putback dunk with a little under five minutes left to give USC Upstate a 61-54 lead.

The Gamecocks tried to rally, cutting the deficit to two, 63-61 on an Ellington three pointer with a little over three minutes left.  But Greene responded with a three pointer of his own to put the Spartans up five.  After Thornwell hit another jumper to cut the lead to three, the Gamecocks forced a turnover.  With a chance to tie the game, Ellington missed an open corner three.

The Spartans would not score on their next possession and two Johnson free throws got the lead down to one, 66-65 with 1:21 left.  But the Gamecocks again could not stop the Spartans from scoring inside.  Miller hit a layup and one, then hit the foul shot to put USC Upstate up four, 69-65.   The Gamecocks had three chances to cut into the Spartans lead, but they missed on all three of their shots behind the arc.

When Miller broke free on an inbounds play for a dunk, that sealed the game for USC Upstate, who went on to win 74-68 to give the Gamecocks their second home non-conference loss in a row.  The Gamecocks only lost one non conference home game all last season.

Glenn was a force inside for the Spartans.  He had a double double, scoring 21 points, grabbing 14 rebounds and added five assists.  He shot eight of twelve from the floor as the Gamecocks had no answer for him.  Craig added thirteen points. Miller and Greene each had ten points, with all of Greene's points coming in the second half.

Thornwell led the Gamecocks with nineteen points, Johnson added eleven and Ellington and Williams each had eight points.  The four players combined to shoot an ugly 14 of 46, including 7 of 27 from beyond the arc. South Carolina shot thirty three percent from the field and also committed twenty four fouls, two days after committing twenty three fouls vs. Manhattan.

My friend Ian McCormick, known as HPUFAN on Twitter, sat with me during the second half.  He appropriately tweeted  in the second half  "If you can't handle Upstate's big men, just wait for SEC play."  And that summed up the game yesterday.  The Gamecocks big men could not handle Glenn, who coming into yesterday's contest had only been averaging six rebounds per game.

Having watched Martin's team the past two seasons, the Gamecocks remind me somewhat of Tom Pecora's team in his second season at Hofstra.  His Hofstra teams went a combined 19-40 and in fact he had less wins in his second season, eight, than his first, eleven.  But it was a young team and in his third season, the turnaround began with fourteen wins and an above .500 record in conference. Then in the next three seasons, Hofstra won a combined sixty nine games and made three straight NITs.

Of course the ultimate goal is to make the NCAA Tournament, not the NIT.  But the main goal is to turn the program around.  Dawn Staley's teams won a combined twenty four games the first two seasons.  Look at where the Gamecock Women's Basketball team is now.

Martin and the Gamecock fan base will need to be patient.  As John Hiatt might say, sometimes it's "A slow turnin.  But you come about."

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Things I Miss This Time of Season

"Halleujah. Noel.  Be it Heaven or Hell.
The Christmas we get, we deserve." 
"I Believe in Father Christmas" By Greg Lake
For the longest time, I truly believed in those words in "I Believe in Father Christmas" (kind of also helped that I am a huge ELP fan).   There were a couple of years in the early Nineties where I spent Christmas alone, due to what I now wrongly believed was what I deserved for mistakes of the heart.

Now married for seventeen wonderful years with two adorable boys, this time of season is special in many ways for me, from a family standpoint as well as a college basketball standpoint. For forty five years, I spent Christmas as a New York resident.  For as long as I can remember, I had the time between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day off from work, when I worked for Hofstra.  I still do, now working for the University of South Carolina.   It's one of the perks working for an academic institution.

And around the holiday season is a great time to see college basketball games in New York.  There's the annual Holiday Festival at MSG, the new tradition, the Barclays Center Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival and a good number of local New York teams that are home during the holiday season break.

But this time of year also reminds me of what I miss about the rest of the college basketball season now that I am a resident of Columbia, South Carolina.

First, I miss the close proximity of local New York Division I colleges.  Stony Brook, St John's, Fordham, Iona, Wagner, Manhattan, LIU and of course Hofstra were schools whose games I went to with quite regularity.  They were all within an hour's drive.  Then you had Madison Square Garden, which was an hour train ride into the city. Writing for Mid Majority in 2011-12 as part of the 800 Games Project, from a commuting standpoint, it was relatively easy and quick to get to a college basketball game (well except parking at Manhattan College).  It helped greatly in my coverage of fifty nine Division I men's basketball games that season.

Now, outside of the University South of Carolina, which is the same distance and time for me as it was traveling to Hofstra games, there are only two other schools that are an hour away; Winthrop and Presbyterian and due to scheduling, I haven't seen a game yet at either school.   The other schools I have been to locally; Wofford, Coastal Carolina, Davidson, Charlotte and College of Charleston are at least ninety minutes away from me.  So, unlike a quick evening jaunt to Iona or Stony Brook, those schools I have to catch on a weekend.

But it's more than just the proximity of local teams I miss.  It's the camaraderie that is lacking.  Thankfully, I have my color analyst, aka my older son Matthew to now go to games with here in South Carolina.  That helps a good deal.  But it doesn't make up for not seeing my friends on a regular basis.

First, Hofstra home games were something out of "Cheers".  After twenty four years of being an administrator on campus, I knew a good number of people at Hofstra who I would see on a regular basis there; my former boss and longtime friend Howard Graves, my good friend at the University Computer Center, Marty Gross, my colleagues and friends from the Plant department, Paul Romano and Kenny Tyler, and many others.  I even got to know former Hofstra coach Mo Cassara, one of the true good guys in the coaching profession, who was always kind enough to see if I needed a ticket for a road game.  Glad he is doing well as analyst for ESPN.

University of Delaware Concessions Barbeque. YUM!
Then there was my good friend Defiantly Dutch, Jerry Beach, who I got to know from Hofstra basketball.  I make fun of his age on Twitter and Facebook.  But truth be told, I am older than him by a long shot and this will be the last time I make fun of his age, though I still think I am younger than him mentally.  Beach is also a terrific writer, far better than me.  He has a wonderful wife, Michelle, who I have become friends with (all great women are named "Michelle", ask my wife) and they have the cutest daughter on the planet, Molly.  Finally, he is also a hilarious travel companion, the John Candy to my Steve Martin.

Through Beach, I have got to know several other Hofstra folks like Lee Warner and the lovely Missy Van Brocklin, who I hope will make baked goods again for us when I am there on December 30.  There's Bob, a season ticket holder who I used to sit across from (and my friends still do, since I still have Hofstra season tickets) and we would trade travel stories and betting lines for other games during the Hofstra game.  And of course, there is nothing like rival blogger trash talk with Beach during a Hofstra game.

Also, due to my friendship with Jerry and my coverage for the Mid Majority and local NY hoops, I have become friends with many NYC college basketball beat writers like the omnipresent Jaden Daly of Daly Dose of Hoops, Ray Curren, the one man force that is the Mid Majority this season,  the stat machine Jon Templon, founder of Big Apple Buckets and the dynamic Iona Women's basketball broadcast duo of Nick Guerriero and John Stanko (Nick is now at Dartmouth).

But what I miss most about not being at the Hofstra games is not seeing my dear friends Tony Terentieff and Mal Galletta.  We sat together for years in Section 111, Row D and before that in Section 102.  The banter between the three of us was often truly hysterical.    And from our vantage point in Section 111, we could pick things up being across from the player benches.  You knew when Tom Pecora, former Hofstra Head Coach, was going to put someone in his doghouse or when Bruiser Flint would go off on his players or referees when Drexel visited Hempstead.

One of my all time favorite Hofstra memories is from the 2004-05 season, when I was still sitting in Section 102 ( We moved to Section 111 after the 2005-06 season).   There was an older gentleman who sat by us who use to occasionally fly off the handle, often at the expense of Pecora.  Adrian Uter was in his first season with Hofstra, after two years of JUCO and came off the bench for the Pride, er Flying Dutchmen (sorry, Jer).   In one game, during one particular stretch, Uter was blocking every shot in sight and tearing down rebounds with authority.  Inexplicably, Pecora took him out of the game.   This older gentleman blurts out  loud "PECORA, WHY ARE YOU TAKING UTER OUT?  HE'S AN ANIMAL!"  Our whole section burst out laughing to the point of tears.

Eight years later, it still sticks out in my mind.  That's what you get in a mid major game, fans making comments like that you will always remember.  Mind you, Frank Martin makes up for some of that in Gamecocks' games, because you can often hear him as clear as a bell.  But it's still not the same.

Then there is my good friend Tony Bozzella.  Over the years, Tieff, Mal and I have gone to so many Iona Women's home games sitting with Tony's wife Maria, his very funny daughter Samantha, and the brains behind Bo's fantasy baseball team, his son Joseph.  So many times, we sat in Bo's office after the game talking with Bo and the awesome Lauren DeFalco, going over the game highlights.  We even traveled to Marist to see them play in a gym right out of Hoosiers.  So many memories.

But it's not just the Hofstra or Iona home games I miss with Tieff and Mal.  It's the countless road trips to Delaware (complete with Delaware Concessions Barbeque!), Towson, Drexel, Iona, the train rides into MSG, the long annual trips down to Richmond to the CAA Tournament, including one year going to Atlantic City before the CAA Tournament ("DO YOU THINK I PLAY CRAP HANDS!" - only Mal and Tieff will understand that one) and heck even our trip to Raleigh to see the now famous Stephen Curry Show at the NCAA Regional in 2008.

When Mal and Tieff came down for a sports weekend this November to see our good friend Bo's Seton Hall Women's team play South Carolina, as well as take in a College of Charleston game and the Florida-USC football game, it was like the three amigos were back in business, albeit for one weekend.  Those are things that I miss most about being down here in South Carolina.

Perhaps someday, I will have that camaraderie here at South Carolina.  The road trips to Davidson, Wofford and Charleston are fun, but it's not the same. Plus now that I am a Little League Baseball coach, so the college basketball season seems shorter to me now.

The good thing is that I will be back in New York for the Holiday season and some college basketball.  I hope to be at Stony Brook on December 22.  On December 28, I will be at the Seton Hall- St John's women's basketball game, then at the Barclays Center for the nightcap of the tripleheader as Boston  College takes on VCU.   Then December 30 it's back to Hofstra for a Pride home game.

But this holiday season though has some sadness.  My sister in law's husband, a great guy, lost his mom last week due to cancer.  Only a few months prior, he lost his dad to cancer as well.   It will be good to see my sister in law and him and hopefully my family will bring them some much needed cheer to their Christmas.

Also on Tuesday night around midnight, I woke up to the sound of fire trucks.  My neighbor's house across the street was on fire.  My neighbor, Richard, an older gentleman who's on disability, happened to be in the hospital for heart surgery, for a stroke he suffered only a few weeks back.  His daughter thankfully was not hurt.   But their house seems to be either a total loss or at least needs major work.  They won't be able to spend Christmas at home this year.

Over the past several years, the above "I Believe in Father Christmas" lyrics have not rung as true for me.  I have learned that people often do not get the Christmas they deserve. These two above examples remind me of that.

In my case, I am just happy that I will be back in New York for the holidays with my family, to bring warmth and consolation to loved ones, to spend time with friends I haven't seen in a while and see some college basketball with good friends that I miss.  It will be good to be back in a "New York State of Mind", albeit for a brief time.

To everyone, as Greg Lake was so correct in singing - "I wish you a joyful Christmas.  I wish you a brave New Year.  All anguish, pain and sadness leave your heart and let your road be clear".

And if you can, catch a live college basketball game.  No better sport to watch live.

Happy Holidays from The College Hardwood!