THP #21: AJ Edwards

February 20, 2021 – Willimantic, Connecticut
Eastern Connecticut State vs UMass-Dartmouth
Men’s Basketball

“Whatchu mean walk the earth?”

“You know. Like Caine in Kung Fu. Walk from place to place. Meet people. Get in adventures.”

This is not, nor has this ever really been, a basketball blog. Sure, basketball is the glue that binds it all, but this is a blog dedicated to the fact that there is weird shit everywhere.

I really dislike this ideal pushed on young people in America that in order to have fully lived a life you must “find yourself” somewhere. Inevitably, that “somewhere” involves a flight or two. The destination always changes but the desired end goal is always the same: level up in a way you cannot do at home.

I’d rather stay home and learn where I live. New England isn’t all that big, but boy is there a lot of weird in these six small states. Wherever you are there will always be some weird nearby. Go find it.

Today I found myself in a charmingly named city of frogs. Can’t get much weirder than that.

Willimantic. What a lovely word to say. Located on the historic land of the Mohegans, Willimantic’s name comes from Algonquian meaning either “land of the swift running water” or “place near the evergreen swamp.”

It is currently a part of the town of Windham in northeast Connecticut, and it’s a town that’s got bridges.

The Willimantic Footbridge just looks cool. I’m a sucker for riveted iron bridges and this looks the part. Six-hundred feet long, and built in 1906, it’s the only footbridge in New England that spans both a river…

and a railroad.

But about those frogs. The frogs are a symbol of the city and are immortalized in statues around the town. The main road bridge over the river features two copper frogs at each end of the bridge.

Thread City Crossing

The frogs sit atop spools of thread, a nod to the town’s long textile history. But the frog story is far stranger.

The tale goes that in 1754 the townsfolk of Willimantic were tense and on edge as the French and Indian War had just begun. The people were expecting an attack in the near future.

That year there had been a drought and there was little water left for the frogs in nearby Follett Pond. The frogs began attacking each other, and the noise was so great that the townspeople thought they themselves were under attack and took up arms and all sorts of commotion was made.

There were cries of armageddon. There were people running with guns in the streets. Riders on horseback crested the hill ready for the fight. Nothing.

The next day the town awoke to find hundreds of dead frogs in the pond. The town was ridiculed throughout the colonies and the town seal was made to be a bullfrog.

Today, the apocryphal story is a beloved part of the town folklore and the pond has been renamed Frog Pond.

Weird shit’s everywhere.

The Good Eats

Connecticut food culture is everything New Jersey puffs its chest about, but without brashness. The Nutmeg state lets the pizza and burgers and diners and everything else stand on its own and stand out from the field without a need to tell everyone about it.

And when it comes to diners, Blondie’s is one of the best.

Located about five minutes from campus, it was a quintessential diner and it was a busy Saturday morning on this day.

One of my problems with diners is that sometimes the portions are insanity. I’m a big dude, and sometimes it’s just too much. I want to be able to clean a plate and not feel like death 20 minutes later.

Blondie’s balanced the line perfectly. I got a deluxe breakfast (not sure the name on the menu but that’s what I’m calling it) of a chocolate-chip pancake, eggs, sausage, toast, and home fries.

This is what a diner breakfast is supposed to be. They also had sausage patties, the supreme version of breakfast sausage, which was a nice addition to the plate.

Go to Blondie’s. Eat some food. it’s a good time.

The Campus

Eastern Connecticut State was founded in 1889. It grew from being a normal school and teacher’s college into a university, a status it gained in 1983.

Today, the campus is broken into the sections, North, South, and the sports complex which is about two miles from the bulk of the main campus.

After the game I got to take a walk around North Campus and she was a looker.

Smith Library
Foster Clock Tower
Science Building

On the side of the science building was Windframe, a kinetic sculpture by Tim Prentice that came alive in the wind.

The Game

Geissler Gymnasium sits on the second floor of the Sports Center, which sits a short walk from the library.

The first thing you notice when you get to the second floor is the lobby area. It’s massive. It’s well-lit, and it feels like a Division 1 space in every way.

Geissler Gym sits about 2,000 people when full and is exactly what you think of when you think of a D3 gym. It smells of lacquered wood. The bleachers creak with every step. It’s warm even in the dead winter.

I love places like this.

As you can see, the bleachers were only partially open to allow for the webcasting team to have some space and for the broadcasters to be able to get up top to work.

It also gave me the chance to dangle my feet off the edge of the bleachers while watching the game. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do that again.

Press box

Today the Warriors were hosting the UMass-Dartmouth Corsairs. Even without a crowd, the pregame had a good vibe to it.

Early on the game was fast and fun. The teams traded buckets and UMass-Dartmouth went into the under-12 media timeout up 19-18.

It was college basketball in its purest form. There was no PA announcer. No national anthem. No lineups. No one to read the scorers and the fouls. It was just the game.

During the manic opening I turned on the camera and just wanted to capture some of the game’s flow. What I got was more than two minutes of serenity. Enjoy.

While the beginning was electric, eventually the Corsairs took over.The lead kept growing throughout the half. By the time intermission rolled around, UMD was up 11 points and firmly in control of the game.

And the lead just kept getting bigger. With nine minutes left, the Corsairs had opened it up to 21 points and were taking the game for a walk.

The Warriors were able to close it down a little, but this nifty layup by Adam Seablom but UMD up 14 with 6:30 to go.

And it’s at this point in time that we meet the protagonist of this story, AJ Edwards.

Edwards, a freshman from New Haven, left high school as his program’s all-time leading scorer. However, this afternoon, 30 minutes into the game, he had yet to crack the egg next to his number on the scoreboard.

And then AJ Edwards took the rock and turned the game into his own personal mountain to conquer.

Edwards scored 15 points in the final seven minutes of the second half. And every time he touched the ball he kept escalating.

He even found a way to crossover out of a steal. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen in college basketball.

And on the back of Edwards, the Warriors chipped away at the lead. It shrank and shrank some more until a pair of free throws from Edwards put Eastern up a bucket with 19 seconds left.

But UMD did have a shot, and this was the top team in the conference.

Overtime it was, tied at 77. And like in regulation, the Corsairs sprinted ahead, leading by four just over two minutes into overtime.

But only one team had AJ Edwards.

But even Edwards couldn’t get the Warriors to turn the corner. The Warriors trailed by four inside the final minute of overtime and were down 85-83 with 40 seconds left.

And then this happened.

AJ Edwards finds Max Lee for the game-winning three. It was Lee’s only points of the game.

Eastern Connecticut State 86, UMass-Dartmouth 85. Final, overtime.

AJ Edwards: 24 points, five steals, four assists in 24 minutes off the bench.

This is all I ever want from sports. For a few fleeting minutes on a Saturday afternoon nothing else mattered. It was just AJ Edwards, an orange ball, and the entirety of the universe on a hardwood floor.

Four days after beating UMD, the Warriors hosted Keene State. It was another back and forth affair won by Eastern 85-83 in overtime. AJ Edwards hit the game-tying three at the end of regulation. He finished with 24 points.

 

 

THP #20: A Warm Embrace

February 10, 2021 – Keene, New Hampshire
Keene State vs Eastern Connecticut State
Men’s Basketball

Division III basketball is my happiest place. It feels like it’s wholly, and totally mine. Sure, there’s more than 400 D3 programs across the country but nearly a fifth are in New England alone.

The last game I was at before the pandemic was March 7. It was the second round of the D3 men’s tournament, Tufts vs RPI. A great game won by Tufts in front of a packed house. Five days later the country shut down.

There were a lot of tears last March for what was lost. It wasn’t because I had lost money from assignments getting cancelled. It was losing the anchor points in my life. Every March for as long as I can remember has verged on being a religious experience.

It was memories of being in the building to watch a four OT game in the D2 tournament years ago only for it to immediately be followed by a one OT affair.

It was going to the men’s D1 Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight as a high school graduation present and seeing Scottie Reynolds make that dash to beat Pitt at the horn.

So much of my life is marked by college basketball and by March. I enjoy sports, but college basketball is king because it feels like it’s mine. I know that millions enjoy the game, but I feel something in a way that nothing else moves me in the sports world.

And D3 is the small brook down the hidden path in the forest of all sports. It’s only seen if you go looking for it, and once you do you never forget it. This season looked like it would be the first that I hadn’t watched a D3 game since 1997. It hurt.

But then I was welcomed here, to Keene, a city in the southwest corner of New Hampshire surrounded by trees and full of life. And I was grateful to be here because I know many in this time of pandemic don’t get the opportunity.

The City of Keene

This place is a gem. With a population of around 23,000, Keene is the largest city for quite a ways, and the heartbeat of the city is Central Square.

Full of shops, eateries, and everything else a college town needs, Central Square is perfectly New England from the coffee shops to the old mainline Protestant Church as its focal point.

Known simply as The White Church, it rises above the square.

Much of the movie Jumanji with Robin Williams was shot in and around Keene. A short walk from the church is the mural for Parrish’s Shoes, still as vibrant as ever, on the bricks of one of the shops.

The Good Eats

The Stage shares a wall with the White Church and is a quintessential spot for a meal out.

Cozy, warm, and welcoming inside, The Stage is an American bistro that has been a staple in the city for three decades.

I hadn’t eaten much and was ready for a proper meal and I got one of the best I’ve had on my journey through New England.

Called a California wrap & roll, it was a veggie burger wrapped with a dill-infused Havarti, avocado, bean sprouts, and field greens dressed in a carrot ginger sauce. And it came with a tamari peanut sauce.

I got it with a side caesar and fries. It delivered.

In my journey to find the best Caesar salad in New England, The Stage ascended to the top spot. The carrots and lemon were a twist I don’t see often and made the dish. The sandwich was unlike anything I’d ever had, with the carrot ginger glaze tying it all together.

And a sauce that was basically soy sauce and peanut butter? How could that be bad? Add in perfectly crunchy fries and this place truly was excellent.

Oh, and there was a piece of chocolate cake with chocolate whipped cream to put a bow on the meal.

I will absolutely be back.

But the good eats didn’t end there because sharing a wall with The Stage was the Life is Sweet candy shop.

The interior of this place was a pastel bomb.

But they had cupcakes and there was a single cupcake left that had a wafer cookie, nutella, and vanilla frosting left in the case. Luckily, I have a wife that loves wafer cookies, nutella, and all foods vanilla.

It was an early Valentine’s Day treat for a wonderful woman.

The Campus

My god did I miss walking around a campus. The schools in cities like Boston have their own appeal, but walking around a campus has no comparison.

Even in the dark, wrapped against the bitter cold of the New Hampshire winter, the campus was beautiful.

The Mason Library

The first floor of the library is home to the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The center houses the college’s Holocuast and Genocide Studies major, the only one of its kind in the country and acts a resource center for the state, and beyond, and houses 6,000 volumes in its collection.

It became a department at the college in 2012.

The quad
Zorn Dining Commons

However one thing that popped the bubble of enjoying a campus was, of course, the pandemic.

The campus was nearly empty. The college has a population of roughly 3,500 and it was a ghost town. The students were set to return shortly after the game was played, but on that night it was cold, dark, and barren.

Throughout this year I’ve wondered why are we doing this? Being in gyms with cardboard cutouts of athletic department officials, friends, and pets is weird. There’s a baseline energy at a basketball game. The general murmur of people conversing and enjoying the day is the starting point and builds throughout.

But it hasn’t been there this season for obvious reasons. For me it hasn’t mattered until it has. I still find myself getting lost in the flow and rhythm of the game but then you’ll hear the broadcaster make a big call and realize that you shouldn’t be hearing that from the other end of the court.

On the other hand, I know how much college basketball means for my mental health and I can’t imagine how much of a lift its been for the players and coaches around the country. Every person I’ve talked to this season has just been grateful that it gets to happen.

I’m grateful to be a part of it.

The Gym

The Spaulding Recreation Center is both gymnasium and student rec center.

The gym itself is a classic, old box. Even with no crowd it was warm inside despite it being in the 20s outside. I can’t imagine how sweltering it gets when a big opponent comes to town.

One neat quirk that I haven’t seen in any other D3 gym in my travels was the video board. Fully HD, it ran graphics throughout the game.

Another interesting thing was how many different owl logos were spread throughout the building. Sure, the logo on the video screen is the current one but logos long past lived on in wall paintings and on banners.

Pick your favorite.

The Game

The Little East Conference is the lone

D3 league in New England giving it a go this season and started in January with only a handful of teams in the league electing to play.

The LEC is also unique in that the league has D1-style media timeouts four times a half. They aren’t as long as Division 1 but they were still built into the game.

The Owls have a long history of success and a recent history of close games against ECSU. Coming into tonight, eight of the last 11 matchups between the two had been settled by single digits.

On this night it was a sprint of the gates and Eastern led 15-13 at the first media timeout.

But the tide turned quickly. ECSU got the lead up to 19-15 and then the Owls kicked it into overdrive. The Owls held the Warriors scoreless for 7:43 and scored 16 straight.

The Owls kept pouring it on and opened up a 17-point lead at the half and grew it to 26 points two minutes into the second half.

No one was sharper for Keene than Jeff Hunter. The 6’7 sophomore had a huge 23-point, 15-rebound double-double. He wasn’t alone though. Jeric Cichon (14 pts, 10 rbd) and James Anozie (12 pts, 12 rbd) had double-doubles of their own.

And even with all that going right for Keene, the Warriors would not go quietly into the night.

ECSU buckled down in the second half and got the gap down to seven with just over four minutes to play.

Cory Muckle had all 14 of his points in the second half to go with 13 rebounds, and Tyreice Woods had 19 for the Warriors.

But when you are playing a team that has three guys with double-doubles, the night isn’t going to end well.

Keene State 85, Eastern Connecticut State 75. Final
Player of the game: Jeff Hunter (KSC)
Time of game – 1:51

Thanks for having me Keene. I can’t wait to be back.

THP #19: The Mill City

January 16, 2021 – Lowell, Massachusetts
UMass Lowell vs Binghamton
Women’s Basketball

It’s cold and wet and Jean-Louis Lebris de Kerouac, better known as Jack, rests below my feet in the Edson Cemetery at the corner of Lincoln and Seventh.

All the walking paths here have road names. It’s easier to parse through the acres of graves that way.

I’ve never read Kerouac’s work but I know that his influence has touched writing far and wide and it’s doubtful that I haven’t read and enjoyed something that was shaped, in some way by his writing.

The small flat stone sits a few yards in front of a more robust stone with the simple inscription “The Road is Life.” A small Fleurdelisé adorns his grave in honor of his Quebecois heritage.

As a writer myself it only felt right to pay my respects.

I find a sense of peace and calm in cemeteries. They are always quiet. Good thinking places. And I’m always taken by the names. There are millions of names on millions of gravestones around the country. Every one of those names is a story, a life lived.

There was Eugene Haines. He passed in 1881 at the age of 28, a year younger than myself. Who was he? What did he do? When did someone last say his name or think about him?

Just a short walk from Eugene was the Proctor family plot. A family of four was buried there. The last person died in 1925. Gone for nearly a century and the stone that marked their final resting place still looked immaculate.

Nathaniel and Zilpah Matthews lived beautifully long, symmetrical lives. He was born a year before her. She passed a year before him. Both lived into their 80s.

As I walked I thought of  a song lyric from Ron Gallo’s All The Punks Are Domesticated“I will be forgotten in two generations/What will have been my big mark?”

All of these people lived a life as best they could and now they’re here. What was their big mark? I’ll never know. In a tangible sense they are just names etched in stone. In my mind they are whoever I want them to be.

That’s why I like cemeteries: even in death, they are still places to dream.

The University

UMass Lowell is one of the youngest Division I programs, having elevated from Division II before the 2013-2014 school year. The Riverhawks hockey team was the school’s lone Division I program before the department-wide elevation.

Lowell holds a unique distinction as being one of only four programs in New England to have two campus venues for basketball with Northeastern, Providence, and Fairfield being the other three.

The program’s rise to Division I mirrored the university’s rise in overall prestige during the same time. When I went to my first UMass Lowell hockey game back in 1999 the university was a small regional school, and now the total number of students is quickly moving toward 20,000.

Academically, the school has hung its hat on its unique plastics engineering major. One of just seven four-year school’s in the country to offer the major, Lowell is the lone school to offer Master’s and Doctorate programs in the field.

The Good Eats

Suppa’s is a Lowell institution. It’s a greasy dive. It’s a pizza place. It’s a perfect campus spot for a quick bite.

I hadn’t eaten anything and was ravenous. The menu is a calvalcade of greasy goodness. This is not a health food spot. It never will be a health food spot. It’s an indulgence and a damn good one.

I went with the steak stick. This is how it is described on the menu: Fresh shaved steak and mozzarella cheese wrapped in homemade pizza dough, deep fried to perfection.

The Steak Stick

Served with a side of blue cheese, I added a bag of honey mustard chips and a water to wash it down. It was great. It was the type of food that you love eating and know full well you’ll never eat it again.

Worth it.

The Gym

The Costello Athletic Center is the beating heart of UMass Lowell sports. The soccer/lacrosse field and the field hockey field sit across the parking lot from the building. Opened in 1964, it’s the home of the Riverhawks both literally and spiritually.

Recent investment has built out the facilities in the building for its tenants, the basketball teams and women’s volleyball. While it looks very 60s brutalist on the outside, the renovations (where you can still smell the wood lacquer) are modern and sleek.

River Hawk Central, a student lounge.

The actual playing arena is a step back in time. A small, cramped room that is a perfect place to spend an afternoon watching hoops. This season both teams are playing all home games in Costello. In a normal year both would split time between here and the much newer, and larger, Tsongas Center.

The Game

Today was the first of a weekend doubleheader between the Riverhawks and Binghamton. Lowell came into the game 6-2 in the league and contending for first-ever America East title while the Bearcats came in 3-5 in conference play.

In the first half, things went back and forth as neither team could fully defend the other.

However, UMass Lowell, led by a great group of sophomores, put the pedal down in the third quarter. The Riverhawks had slowly built a lead throughout but opened up a 10-point gap after three quarters.

The Riverhawks would hold on with ease thanks to six players scoring at least six points led by sophomore Denise Solis scoring 16 in just 22 minutes of play as she was hampered by fouls and eventually fouled out. Tianha Sears had 10 for the Riverhawks.

UMass Lowell only shot 38 percent from the field but it was enough as Binghamton shot 32 percent.

UMass Lowell 59, Binghamton 49. Final.
Player of the game: Jailena Sanchez (UML) – 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals.

THP #18: Huntington

January 4, 2021 – Boston, Massachusetts
Northeastern vs Delaware
Women’s Basketball

Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. We’re so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside.” — Karn Evil 9 – First Impresion – Part 2 by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer.

Man, did I miss this. The last time I was inside a gym was back on March 7. I was at Tufts for the second round of the D3 men’s NCAA tournament. The Jumbos held off a talented RPI team to win by nine and advance to the Sweet Sixteen. I was covering the game for the Times Union in Albany.

The gym was packed to the gills. As the final seconds wound down the student section sang along with John Denver’s Take Me Home, Country Roads. I didn’t pay it much mind because I was on deadline and the following week was a big one.

I had assignments in Maine, New York, and Connecticut lined up. And then poof. Five days after I saw Tufts beat the Engineers the whole season got chucked in the bin.

I cried when the NCAA tournament was cancelled. It wasn’t even about the basketball. It was about losing an anchor point in my life that had defined every year for me for more than 20 years.

The opening weekend was almost my personal start to spring. Sure, it may have still been 35 degrees outside, but it was opening Thursday and that meant sunny skies and warmer nights were coming soon.

Every March I could tie the dance back to my memories of chaos growing up. TJ Sorrentine hit it from the parking lot when I was a kid. Ty Rogers and WKU blowing my bracket apart and beating Drake when I was in high school. Picking Norfolk State to beat Missouri because I had a hunch Frank Haith would blow another big game.

Every March tied into the ones before and would into the ones to come. But 2020 had no March. It was devastating.

So far this season I had reached out to contacts I had about picking up work, both written and broadcast. Anything to just get me in a gym. Places I’d worked for years either weren’t playing or weren’t welcoming people inside.

It was shaping up to be the first winter since 1996, when I was five, that I wouldn’t see a live college basketball game. I got a gig working the PA at one place. Then I got an email that morning that the game was postponed.

Man, did it suck. As I’ve gotten older, college basketball has become an almost spiritual experience of connecting with the land. I’m a New Englander to my core. Born here. Raised here. Married here. Will die here.

This project has been a way for me to get out and see all of New England. All the small towns and little hideaways tucked in corners that I’d never have thought to look. That’s the greatest joy of this. It never matters who wins or loses. What matters is the journey.

And I thought there would be no miles to log or gyms to see this year. It dragged on me like a weight. But, like the song lyric above, college hoops finds a way (for better or worse) to roll on.

. . .

Northeastern is a hockey school through and through. Nothing matters more to the student body than winning the Beanpot, Boston’s annual tournament to crowd the city champion between NU, Harvard, Boston College, and Boston University.

I’ve always been fond of Northeastern. I grew up going to Husky football. Played on a tiny field tucked away in Brookline far from campus, I saw NU’s best teams ever. A 10-2 squad in 2002 that made the NCAA tournament before being upset by Fordham in the first round was the highlight.

Although being 11 and seeing that loss live was crushing. But what was more crushing was when the team was dropped in 2009. I was a freshman at Rhode Island and was at the Huskies’ last ever game, a 33-27 win over the Rams. John Griffin scored Northeastern’s last touchdown, an 18-yard run with 48 seconds left in the third quarter.

At last year’s Beanpot final the students filled more than half of the upper deak at TD Garden and made a ruckus all night long, capped by a rousing rendition of the greatest song ever after the Huskies beat BU in a thrilling 5-4 game.

Even with a student body that comes out to support the teams, basketball does not have much history of success on Huntington Avenue. The men’s team found great success in the 80s led by Reggie Lewis on the court and Jim Calhoun on the sideline, making six NCAA tournaments and winning three tournament games during the decade.

The women have made just one tournament (1999) , and that was back when the program competed in America East and not its current home, the CAA.

Other than that the best team was the 2015 men’s team that won the CAA and gave Notre Dame a heart attack before losing 69-65 in the opening round.

But even without much history, Northeastern does stand out from the crowd. It is one of just four schools in New England (UMass Lowell, Fairfield, and Providence) to have two venues for basketball.

One is the oldest continuously operating arena in the country. The other is our stop today.

The Hub of the Universe

The Good Eats

With a unique 1 p.m. Monday start time there was a need to grab a quick lunch before tip. Luckily, being in the heart of Boston, there are many great places to bop in and grab a quick bite.

I was feeling mediterranean and Boston Shwarma was open. the fact that there was no line was gravy.

A small storefront just down the road from the gym, it sits about a seven iron away from Symphony Hall. And it’s great. Small, compact, well-priced, and a damn good spot to get a shwarma on the go.

I went classic, a lamb shwarma and chips sandwich. It came with all the fixings so it was meaty and savory and crunchy and messy and perfect for crisp winter day in Boston.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed grubbing up on the go. Walking down Huntington having a sandwich, feeling the familiar embrace of cold winter air wrap itself in and around me was something I hadn’t thought I’d yearned for.

Covid has taken away so many of the daily smells of being out and about because of masks. Masks are good. It was nice, even for just two minutes, to feel the burning sensation of cold air in my nostrils.

A perfect shwarma

The Neighborhood

Like the other big schools in Boston, Northeastern doesn’t so much have a campus as it’s a distinct neighborhood. Located on the E train branch of the Green Line, Northeastern is in the heart of Boston.

It’s also so close to BU that the banners on the lampposts change from one school to the other and you don’t even notice.

The E train

The Museum of Fine Arts was around the corner from the gym. When it’s open it’s one of the great art institutions in America. My favorite painting, Renoir’s Dance at Bougival sits in the Impressionists’ gallery at the MFA. It’s a wonderful place.

Next time I’m at Northeastern I’ll stop in and hopefully show you what’s on exhibition.

The MFA

The Game

About 30 minutes before tip my friend Brandon called me. I pace when I’m on the phone and I’m glad I did because I wound face to face with Cy Young.

Cy Young

Located between the gym and Churchill Hall there’s a small patch of grass and Cy is looking in on home plate for the sign.

This was the site of the Huntington Avenue Ground, the original home of the Boston Americans baseball team. Today the club is better known as the Red Sox. The Grounds hosted the first World Series in 1903, in which Young led the Americans to a 5-3 series win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Home plate

Now the Cabot Center sits on the sit of the old ballfield along with other campus buildings.

Cabot Center entrance

While both basketball teams are playing at the Cabot this year, traditionally it’s only home to games for women’s basketball and women’s volleyball.

Two things strike you immediately upon walking in: the immense amount of natural light and the gray playing surface.

The natural light is lovely. I can’t think of any other D1 facility in New England with windows overlooking the court. It gives the building a brightness that fluorescent lights just can’t.

The matchup was the first of a back-to-back between the Huskies and Delaware, another former America East program. The Blue Hens have made four NCAA tournaments this century, making it back-to-back in 2012-2013 on the shoulders of Elena Della Donne.

The Blue Hens made the Sweet 16 in 2013.

The game was great in the early going as the teams traded the lead with zeal. Up 15-14 in the first quarter the Blue Hens found a different gear and scored 13 straight points to widen the lead and never looked back.

The Blue Hens rolled. A strong game inside (outrebounding NU 43-35) and a strong game outside (47.7 percent shooting) compounded with timely defense allowed Delaware to win with ease.

The Blue Hens outscored Northeastern 50-19 over the second and third quarters.

Delaware had five players with 11 or more points including a team-high 16 points from Tyi Walker. The Blue Hen bench outscored the Husky reserves 35-9.

Mide Oriyomi had 20 for Northeastern and Stella had a full day with 13 points, nine assists, five rebounds, and four steals for the Huskies. Delaware was just too much.

Delaware 86, Northeastern 59. Final.
Time of game – 1:50
Player of the game – Ty Battle (Delaware) — 13 points, 14 rebounds, 2 steals

One of the more surprising things for me was how familiar everything felt once I got in the gym. Sure, there are no fans and no general gameday buzz, but once I was in the gym I was vibing with the pregame music. It was like putting on your favorite jacket after it spent all year folded up in the closet.

Yes, there was plexiglass surrounding everyone’s seat at the media table but even then couldn’t take me out of the moment. It was basketball. It was familiar. It was home.

THP #17: The Darling Becomes King

This piece was written months after attending the game. The blog got lost in the fray of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is written of its time.

February 27, 2020 – North Andover, Massachusetts
Merrimack College vs Central Connecticut State
Men’s Basketball

Everything about tonight seems like an exercise in fiction.

I was in the gym last season when Merrimack gave up a halftime lead and lost by 14 to Dominican in the first round of the D2 NCAA tournament. And yet, tonight is history.

These Warriors, in this nondescript suburb of Boston, have become the toast of college basketball coast to coast. The win over Northwestern, by 10 points no less, in just its second D1 game ever catapulted the Warriors into the national conversation.

Of course, that was a flash in the pan. Sure, upsets happen but there’s no way that the Warriors could sustain it.

But they have.

Tonight’s game against Central Connecticut is a simple one: win and you are the Northeast Conference champions. No bullshit, no asterisks, no co-champions. A win tonight and you have a banner all your own.

This one means a lot to me because I have spent my whole life in this building. I’ve been coming to Merrimack to support the Warriors for 21 years. I remember my first hockey game here, 2/26/99, a 5-2 over vaunted Boston College.

Lawler Arena sits just across the lobby from Hammel Court and I ahve grown up there.

Lawler Arena

I was seven years old when I first walked into that rink. It was just ratty wooden bleachers, a low ceiling, and a fanbase dedicated to the small school they called home. I was never a student here. Hell, I’ve been coming longer than the beat writer.

But I love this place, and I’m excited to be for this game tonight. First though, I gotta eat and I know just the place.

The Good Eats

Harrison’s Roast Beef on 125

When you go to Merrimack you go to Harrison’s. Barely a mile away from campus, Harrison’s is the epitome of a divey roast beef joint.

People across the Merrimack Valley will debate which roast beef place is the best: Kelly’s or Harrison’s. Harrison’s is the correct answer.

My go-to is always the same. A large roast beef with cheese, medium fry, pizza roll, and diet Pepsi. It never fails to satisfy. There is no ambience here. You don’t come to dine. You come to put roast beef in your face.

I have yet to find a better place to satisfy the craving.

My Harrison’s meal

The Game

The irony of Hammel Court is that it isn’t even the largest gym on its road. With a capacity of just 1,200, Hammel Court is dwarfed by the gym at Lawrence High School down the road, which maxes out at just under 3,500.

The tight confines make for an intimate affair.

The game was a battle of Merrimack’s 2-3 zone and the Blue Devils’ attempt to break it. Mack got the better of it.

Despite controlling the tempo of the game, the Warriors couldn’t shake CCSU (Central would finish the season 347 in Kenpom).

As things went on though, the Warriors asserted their dominance. Points came toward the end of the first half and Merrimack opened up a 40-30 halftime lead.

The final 20 minutes was maintenance. Merrimack held it’s lead and never let the Blue Devils cut the deficit into single digits.

The star was Juvaris Hayes. The Merrimack senior left it all on the court in his final college game. The NCAA’s all-time steals leader, finished his last game with 19 points, seven rebounds, five rebounds, and five steals in 35 minutes.

And it all ended with a conference championship.

Merrimack 69, Central Connecticut 58. Final.

Yes, it was a muted celebration. But nets were cut down all the same. A season for the history books capped with a flourish by Hayes and the Warriors.

Onto next season.

 

Thank you to everyone for following me on this journey of mine. This is a project of deep passion for me. I view college basketball as the sporting glue that connects the United States. I love it with all its warts, idiosyncrasies, and beauty.

I feel grateful to have been able to end the first season of this blog being able to see a ladder and a pair of scissors. I hit all three divisions, all six New England states, and even went to a non-NCAA school.

It’s never been about the basketball but about finding a deeper connection to New England, the place I was raised and the place I will die. So thank you again for reading. I look forward to being back soon enough with more basketball, restaurants, and adventures from walking the earth.

THP #16: The Supreme Court

This piece was written months after attending the game. The blog got lost in the fray of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is written of its time.

February 21, 2020 – Waltham, Massachusetts
Brandeis vs Washington University (St. Louis)
Men’s Basketball

It’s fucking cold. It’s so cold walking around Waltham on this day, but it is a beautiful day for basketball.

Waltham is a sneaky little city. With a population of 60,000 people, and located 11 miles west of Boston, Waltham is a place with things going on. Today I am at Brandeis University, and a few miles away sits the city’s second college, Bentley University.

With a consistently in flux population of young people, and good restaurants and quality of living, Waltham hides in plain site as one of the Commonwealth’s great cities.

But it’s still so fucking cold.

The Good Eats

Moody Street is the cultural beating heart of Waltham. Full of restaurants and shops of all flavors, Moody Street is as good a high street as there is in Eastern Mass.

And boy did I get a great meal on the corner at Balani. I even needed a reservation. The place even had a 4.9 rating on Google with more than 50 reviews, that type of unanimity is unheard of online.

Walking in I knew I was in for quality all around. The ambience of the restaurant struck the perfect chord between relaxed and upscale. An Asian fusion restaurant, I found myself seated at a table under a cherry blossom tree.

If only for a minute, it made me forget how blisteringly cold it was outside.

The interior of Balani

Fried chicken over pineapple fried rice? I had no idea how much I needed that in my life but I need it every day.


Instead of chips or popcorn, Balani offered a basket of puffed, fried shrimp chips. I don’t know how to describe this other than the texture of a baked lay with the flavor or perfectly cooked shrimp that melted on my tongue like a thin sliver of chocolate.

It was both airy and decadent.

The shrimp chips

The Campus

Brandeis is located about 20 minutes away from Boston in Waltham. A sizable suburb, Waltham is known as The Watch City due to the Waltham Watch Company, the first manufacturer to make watches on an assembly line.

The university itself is named after Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, and it was founded in 1948. Originally, the board of trustees wanted to name the university after Albert Einstein, but he turned down the accolade. Although, his connection to the university in its fledgling days did help raise its profile.

The photo atop this piece is of the Brandeis statue that sits in the middle of campus.

A mix of mid-century architecture with newer, shinier buildings sprinkled in, Brandeis has carved out a place for itself as one of the top universities in the Boston area.

Carl J. Shapiro Science Center

The Game

Brandeis is a member of the United Athletic Association, and that conference needs a deep dive in its own right.

The league has a larger geographic footprint that most high-profile Division 1 conferences. It’s eight members are all ranked in the top-40 research universities in the country. While athletics play second fiddle to academics in the league,  basketball has seen its share of success across the conference.

Brandeis was a national power early this century, and Wash U won a men’s national title in 2008. And that’s small fry compared to the Bears’ women’s program which won the 2010 championship and four-peated from 1998-2001.

The other schools in the league are:

New York University
University of Rochester
Emory University
Carnegie Mellon University
Case Western Reserve
University of Chicago

In fact, the largest distance between schools in the Big 10 (Nebraska & Rutgers) is just 115 miles further apart than Brandeis is from Wash U. It’s a D3 league with a D1 travel budget.

Gosman Recreation Center

On this night, the Judges needed to find a way to get past the Bears if they were to stay in league title contention. The UAA still crowns its champion after a double round-robin regular season schedule with no tournament.

Brandeis plays its basketball on Red Auerbach court, which is located just inside the running lines of the indoor track. The most analogous D1 facility I can think of is Jadwin Gym at Princeton.

The game was back and forth early as both sides were able to hit shots. Brandeis closed the half on a 10-4 run to go into the break up 38-34.

The second half was a game of Brandeis trying to get breathing room, and Wash U closing them down like quicksand.

The first 10 minutes of the second half was exciting basketball, and Wash U slowly started to open up a lead as the clock began to wind down. Then it was Jack Nolan who made it his job to stick the knife and twist. A pair of threes on consecutive possessions cemented a 12-point lead with 3:45 to play.

Nolan had 15 in the second half. He finished with 24.

Washington University 77, Brandeis 70. Final

Top Performer
DeVaughn Rucker (WashU): 25 points, seven rebounds

THP #15: The Cavern

February 9, 2020 – Amherst, Massachusetts
UMass-Amherst vs George Mason
Men’s Basketball

Amherst is one the great college towns of New England. The heartbeat of the Five Colleges consortium, Amherst is a town that takes great pride in its universities.

It’s also a bear to get to but that’s where I am with my brother on a cold and gray Sunday afternoon.

This is a special stop because this was my brother’s Hanukkah gift to me. Rather than a restaurant gift card or some object that’ll never get used he said I could name a game and we’d go together. He’s an ace of a brother.

The Good Eats

Downtown Amherst is beautiful. The beating heart of the famous Five Colleges, it has everything a perfect college town needs.

And right on the main street is Jeudi’s.

This is the nice place. The place you go for a date. The place you go to have an excellent meal. And what an excellent meal it was.

We started with the popover and homemade apple butter. Thing was the size of a football.

After that I went for the casesar salad and….and it just missed. I love a good Caesar. This one was different with hard-boiled eggs and artichoke hearts mixed in with the usual stuff. Oh well. Still finished it.

The main was a burger with leeks, carrots and guacamole. It was one of the strangest sandwiches I ever had and it was delicious.

The Campus

I have a cousin who goes to UMass who described the campus as “North Korea in winter” and it really doesn’t wow.

Brutalism and brick. That’s the UMass aesthetic.

And adding to that feel is the Mullins Center. Opened in 1993, the Mullins has the look and feel of a warehouse. The largest arena in Western Massachusetts and third-largest in the state, with a basketball capacity of 9,500, the building just feels too big.

The interior is cavernous. There is no second deck so the seats just keep going up and up. The arena is also quite dark by modern arena standards so it feels like a vast open space inside. Add in a sparse crowd and it was a strange vibe.

There are two other quirks inside: The first is that the banner from the 1996 Final Four still hangs proudly even though the games were vacated and technically “never happened” because Marcus Camby contacted a sports agent.

And then there’s the concourse. In most venues of this size the concourse and seating bowl exist as one unit. Small, open entryways connect them so people can flow through easily.

At the Mullins Center all of those entryways have full double doors which gives a strange separation between the seating bowl and the concourse area. Also, the concourse looks like it could double as a hotel lobby.

The Game

On paper this was not a good one. UMass and George Mason. Both toward the bottom of the A-10. Both in total rebuild mode.

However, what we got was a thrilling game in front of 2,313 people. After a comical opening few minutes in which it felt like neither team could score, both clubs dialed it in.

The half ended with a flourish from the home team with Sean East laying it in at the horn to send the game into half tied at 35.

It felt like the second half would be UMass putting the pedal down. The Minutemen opened up the lead and kept growing it as the half progressed.

Djery Baptiste came off the bench and scoreed eight of his 10 points in the second half for UMass, including this floater.

Baptiste’s layup was part of a run in the second half that opened up a 14-point lead for the Minutemen with five minutes to go. But then someone put a lid on the basket for the home team.

And George Mason started chipping away at the lead. They got to 10. Then seven. They kept getting closer and closer in UMass’ rearview.

Eventually it was a two-point game in the final seconds. George Mason had the final say.

UMass 69, George Mason 67. Final.
Top performer: Preston Santos (UMass) – 17 pts, 5 rbd, 4 ast
Time of Game: 2:04

THP #14: The Game

February 7, 2020 – New Haven, Connecticut
Yale v Harvard
Men’s Basketball

There aren’t many rivalries that quite match Harvard-Yale. The schools have been playing football annually since 1875, and the annual rowing regatta has been held each year between the schools, except for war time, since 1859.

Harvard has six fight songs that mention Yale. Yale has five fight songs that mention Harvard.

It’s a rivalry intertwined with American culture both in sports and, considering the long list of global alumni, the world at-large.

On this night it was another basketball chapter that was written. A strange 5 p.m. start on a regular-season Friday, a packed house, a 40-minute banger. It was something else.

But first there was the second-largest city in the state to explore.

The Campus

Yale is the first of my four Ivy League stops and it oozes with what people think an Ivy League campus looks and feel like. Large, castle-like buildings dot the campus with walls that could regale you for hours if they could talk.

There are many new, sleek buildings of glass and steel but nothing compares to the centuries-old buildings that rise above The Elm City.

Located on the old campus is the statue of Theodore Woolsey. The tenth president in school history (1846-1871), Woolsey grew Yale’s influence and helped build the reputation that the school is known for around the world today.

The statue sits in the quad in the middle of Old Campus, which is now mainly freshman housing. The statue is considered as talisman as rubbing Woolsey’s toe is meant to bring good luck.

The Good Eats

So before I can get to a one-of-a-kind spot in New Haven, I must take you 50 miles back up the road to Vernon, CT.

Take a right off exit 65 on Route 84 and you’ll find the Vernon Diner. This is a necessary detour as this is my single favorite restaurant in the country. A perfect diner that never closes and always satisfies.

It’s a place I stop at nearly every time I ride through Connecticut and I wanted to share it so more people go there in the hope that it stays open now and forever.

With almost 300 seats, it’s much larger than what you would think a diner would be but there are regularly long waits on peak hours, and it’s always worth it.

As you do I was having breakfast at 1:30 in the afternoon and started off Shabbat with a warm bowl of matzo ball soup on a bitterly cold day.

And I finished it off with pancakes and eggs. I love the old standbys because unless the chef is completely inept, they will always satisfy. And the breakfast in Vernon sticks the landing every time.

So after that delicious meal I found myself several hours later at Louis Lunch in the heart of New Haven.

This place is tiny. Smaller than my apartment by a large margin, Louis Lunch has been in business since 1895 and is one of the most important restaurants in America’s food history.

Louis Lunch is the birthplace of the hamburger sandwich and that is still the only freshly-cooked food product that they sell.

Want ketchup? Not happening. Want fries? Move on. For toppings you choose from cheese, onions grilled into the patty, and fresh tomato slices. That’s it.

The menu

The bread is toasted on a rotating toaster that dates back to the 1920s and the burgers are cooked vertically in the original vertical broilers.

The burgers are beautiful in their simplicity. Just a burger on a paper plate.

Delicious.

The Game

Before you see a Yale basketball game you must first admire the beauty that is Payne Whitney Gymnasium. The Cathedral of Sweat.

The building is the second-largest gym in the world by indoor space (12 interior acres) and houses Yale’s pool and numerous indoor training facilities as well as the home for basketball, the John J. Lee Amphitheater.

Lee is a regal dungeon. The amenities are non-existent. There are seats with obstructed views. The media area is just a small section of the wooden bleachers with tabletops.

The concourse looks like it could be used as a castle hallway for a period piece if you took the lights down. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where I can admire stained glass during a TV timeout.

The Game

Over the last 15 years the Ivy League has become one of the most comeptitive mid-major leagues in the country.  Between 1989-2006 Penn or Princeton won at least a share of every championship.

Since then five different schools have won at least a share of the league crown and four have won it outright.

Tonight, the skill was fully on display between two of the top squads in the conference.

That’s Yale junior Paul Atkinson, an excellent inside player. Did you like that dunk? Here’s some more of him and a sweet dime.

Atkinson was the lynchpin for Yale on this night but the Bulldogs played from behind for most of the game thanks to timely shooting from Harvard’s Christian Juzang and Noah Kirkwood.

The Crimson eventually took a 13-point lead into intermission.

But then Azar Swain happened. The junior from Brockton took the game over, mortgage and all.

He had 27 points in the second half on 8-11 shooting. And with Swain the gap fell and fell some more. The Bulldogs continued to grow larger in Harvard’s mirror and Swain was the gas pedal punched through the floor.

Swain and the Bulldogs clawed back from the edge but found themselves down four points with five seconds left.

Yale got the ball to Azar. He made magic.

I don’t follow sports much anymore for wins and losses. Yes, there are a few teams I support, and I want them to do well. But the morning after a game I wash the result away. I’m in good health. That’s all I need.

What I do follow sports for is that noise. That noise that rattles in your bones and echoes through your muscles. I want to be surrounded by the energy that only sporting passion exiting the human soul can produce. I chase moments like Azar Swain’s three.

The And-1 had to wait as the refs reviewed the time left on the clock. The review dragged on for almost three minutes before Swain stepped to the line.

Harvard 78, Yale 77. Final.
Time of game: 2:03
Top performer: Azar Swain. 33 points

At halftime I was able to gain an audience with Handsome Dan. Handsome Dan is known by everyone at Yale and is at almost every single Yale sporting event. He’s deeply loyal to the Elis and always enjoys meeting new fans.

He is THE Yale Bulldog in every way.

Handsome Dan is Yale’s goodest boy

I just hope no one tells him I was in the Harvard Kids Club many moons ago. I wouldn’t want to impose on the relationship.

THP #13: The Burg

February 5, 2020 – Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Fitchburg State vs MCLA
Women’s Basketball

Fitchburg is the kind of town that’s easy to drive through. With Route 2 running directly through the city, thousands of people drive through Fitchburg very day.

But the City by the River is a charmer. With a population of 40,000 it’s like many mill towns in Northern Massachusetts. It’s worn and cramped by the centuries of time. It creaks with the stories of people long past.

Downtown Fitchburg

The Good Eats

In a town like Fitchburg it just made sense to go where the townies go. And that took me to Slattery’s. Located on a corner, the bar/restaurant could easily be described as rustic. Low ceilings. Low lights even in the afternoon. It was a place I knew I could get a good meal and disappear into a booth.

The classics are classic for a reason and the veal parm was a classic. I don’t ask for much from most restaurants. Just give me good, solid food that isn’t the bare minimum. Fresh meat. Al dente pasta. Great stuff.

Around Town

When I travel to these places I’m always trying to find good bakeries. If I could figure out all the best places to find a good cookie or cannoli I’d love it.

And Fitchburg has a great spot in the Dutch Kitchen Bake Shop. Located in a strip mall, the Dutch Kitchen has case upon case of delicious treats.

I got myself a chocolate chip cookie. It was good. I got the fiance a lemon square. It was great. Definitely pull off Route 2 and grab a pastry.

To top it off, Fitchburg had an art museum and I wasn’t about to say no to a little bit of culture in my trip to Central Mass.

The Fitchburg Art Museum is located on a hidden little side street. Established in 1925 at the bequest of Eleanor Norcross, a famous artist and collector born in the city. Norcross was the first American artist to have her works showcased at the Louvre in Paris.

After her death in 1923 she left many of her works and a sizable amount of money to establish an arts and cultural center in her hometown.

On this day there was a whole room dedicated to works by my favorite American Artist, Winslow Homer. Before he painted his famous landscapes in Maine, he was a magazine illustrator and the exhibit went back through his career with the pen.

Exhibitions of African art and Egyptian relics filled the museum and gave it a worldwide feel. For less than $10 it’s definitely worth an hour of your time when you come to Fitchburg.

 

A replica of one of King Tut’s thrones

American Domestic by Willie Cole

The Game

The Recreation Center at Fitchburg State is just that. It’s a place for students all over campus to workout or run a game of pickup. The Falcons’ basketball and volleyball teams call the venue home.

Small, smelling of wood lacquer, and worn in by the years, it’s a perfectly serviceable place to play and watch basketball.

On this night it is the Falcons women’s team taking on the Trailblazers of MCLA (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts), and it was all Falcons from the jump.

Fitchburg took the lead early and grew it to six by halftime.

Fitchburg grew the lead to 11 after three quarters and would go on to pick up the 56-41 win.

The top performer was Fitchburg senior Angelina Marazzi. Marazzi had 23 points and nine boards for the Falcons.

The most notable thing about the game though was its length. From start to finish the game took exactly 80 minutes. I don’t know if I’ll ever see a full 40-minute game that fast ever again.

. . .

Sharing a wall with the bakery was Disc Golf 978, a store dedicated exclusively to disc golf. It was a festival for the eyes upon walking in.

I got to talking with the man behind the counter, Adam. He was so passionate about disc golf. He was explaining to me the difference between a driver and a putting disc. The differences in materials. The prevalence of courses throughout Massachusetts.

I love passionate people. They do the three important things: show up, give a shit, try. If you do those three you’ll be doing okay in life and Adam certainly was.

I asked him how people view the university and the school’s athletic teams around town. He said there were two types of people: the ones who were ambivalent and the ones who took great pride in having a university in town. I’d rather get to know the latter.

Fitchburg. Nice town.

THP #12: The Best of The Best

January 31, 2020 -Kingston, Rhode Island
Virginia Commonwealth v Rhode Island
Men’s Basketball

We’re Rhode Island born
And we’re Rhode Island bred
And when we die we’ll be Rhode Island dead
So go go Rhode Island island
Go go Rhode Island island
Go Rhode Island
U-R-I

I’ve made it home. The alma mater. The single best place to watch college basketball in all of New England. I love it here.

This is the University of Rhode Island, where I graduated from in 2013. The flagship university in one of the most hoops-crazy states in the union. I love it here.

Looking out at the quad.

Established in 1892 as the Rhode Island College of Agriculture and the Mechanic Arts, URI has grown to a sprawling university with 17,000 students across four campuses. The flagship sits in Kingston, a small village of South Kingstown.

Kingston isn’t known for much outside the university. The most important historical event there was The Great Swamp Fight in 1675, a battle between Colonial/Pequot forces and the Narragansett tribe that resulted in nearly 1,500 dead and proved to be the beginning of the end of King Philip’s War.

Looking toward Carothers Library

Academically, URI has grown into a top science and research institution. With a well-renowned pharmacy program, and heavy investment in the sciences over the last decade, URI has set itself in a good position heading into the next decade.

Robert Ballard, the man who discovered the wreckage of the Titanic, also works at the university as the director for the Graduate School of Oceanography.

The history and the future blend together across the campus’ more than 1,200 acres.

Something old: Lippitt Hall (1897) sits 10 yards away from…

Something New: The Fascitelli Center for Advanced Engineering (2019) is a gleaming glass monument to modernity

The Good Eats

Tilly’s didn’t exist when I was in school. It was just an empty lot that I’d drive by on my way to the train station or the liquor store. Today, it’s one of the best restaurants I regularly go to in New England and it would have destroyed my wallet and waistline if I was still a student.

Tilly’s serves cheesesteaks, fries, and shakes. And they are damn good. A small spot that sits maybe four dozen, it brings it with the quality in a major way.

And sticking with the low-fi aesthetic they don’t take your name when you order. They give you a card. A playing card.

The cheesesteak is amazing. The french fries are amazing. The homemade pickles tie it all together. 12/10. Absolutely take the short drive down route 138 and grab yourself a sandwich before the game.

The Game

The Ryan Center opened in 2002 and replaced the historic and cramped Keaney Gym, which now is the home for the volleyball team.

Sitting just over 7,600 people, the Ryan Center feels bigger than it is and truly has no bad seat in the building. If there was a concern it would be that there is no center-hung scoreboard, but other than that it truly is a perfect building.

I spent 3.5 years covering the team for the school paper and loved every second of it. This place really is a home for me when it comes to sports in New England. Even as an alum I still make sure to get a miniplan every year so I can get back.

And on this night it was a Ram family reunion with VCU in town for a massive A-10 tilt. The Ryan Center can get real damn loud when it’s half full. Tonight it was sold out.

And Rhody delivered in a huge way, jumping VCU early and blowing the roof off the place. The Rams never trailed and kept rolling it up.

The lead grew from 10 to 15 to 20 and eventually capped at 29 in the second half. VCU cut it back in the final 10 minutes but never got it back into single figures.

Fatts Russell was dynamic with 30 points. Tyrese Martin continued growing into the future star that he’s sure to be as an upperclassman with 18 points. Jeff Dowtin, the captain, had 17.

And Cyril Langevine teased a double-double, putting in 11 points and grabbing nine rebounds. He also left the Ryan Center with one for the road.

Rhode Island 87, Virginia Commonwealth 75. Final.

Before the game I was in the Rhody Pub mixing and mingling and saw a guy in an old Rhode Island jersey trimmed in gold. Rhody hasn’t had gold in their jerseys since the 80s.

His name was Alan. I asked him where he found it. It wasn’t found. It was his old jersey from his club lacrosse days as a student back in 1983. He was the game with his friend John. Alan comes once a year back to campus with John to rekindle old times and keep his personal connection with the school alive.

I asked him why keep coming back. Simply put, it’s the alumni pull. It’s the desire to return to school and breathe in the air of being a student for just a few hours.

And as I shook his hand to go on my way he noticed my Alpha Epsilon Pi bracelet. His son is in the chapter at UConn.

College basketball. Small world.