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 Game

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.


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

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.


THP #11: The Smallest Gym

January 28, 2020 – Henniker, New Hampshire
New England College vs Tufts University
Men’s Basketball

It was a cold night on the last Tuesday in January. It was the kind of cold that gave you claustrophobia. And it was in a town seemingly removed from the rest of New England.

Henniker has just a shade under 5,000 people and it feels less because the town is so spread out, with just 110 people per square mile.

It has three major claims to fame. The first is that it is the only Henniker on earth. The second is that it is the birthplace of paintball. The third is that the community of Henniker played an early role in the development of American Sign Language.

The town is an enigma. It has all the trappings of a tucked away hamlet in Vermont but it sits just 30 minutes away from Manchester and 20 minutes from Concord, the first and third largest cities in the state, respectively.

Today it is a small, sleepy town buried under the cold of a dark winter’s night.

The downtown starts at town hall and ends at the intersection of the Citizens Bank and the convenience store.

However, on this night there was excitement and theater all around as a fender bender snared the main thoroughfare through Henniker.

The Campus

The New England College campus feels very much like the many other small, secluded colleges that dot New England. Academically, NEC offers programs ranging from associate’s degrees all the way up to a doctoral degree program.

It’s also one of the most diverse universities in the country and was named as one of the 25 most diverse univerisities in the country by Time Magazine in 2018.

Athletically, NEC is a member of the New England Collegiate Conference, a non-football league of small private schools around New England. New England College is the only college in the country with athletic teams called The Pilgrims.

This is THP’s second stop in the NECC after Lesley.

Bridges Gym

The Game

Bridges Gym is small inside and out. With offices wedged into the tiniest of spaces, Bridges is definitely an exercise in maximizing space.

The cramped entryway of Bridges Gym

But nothing can top the size of the gym. Nothing can quite prepare you for seeing a 94-foot court in a room 100-feet long.

The yard between baseline and wall

On the bench side the sideline is only about seven feet from the wall. This is a room devoted to NEC athletics with not a single inch to spare. With a capacity of just under 400 it gets real loud real quick in a room this small.

And tonight was a night for it to get loud as nationally-ranked Tufts University was in town for a rare late-season non-conference game. While the Jumbos came it with the national ranking, NEC was by no means a lightweight. The Pilgrims entered the game 12-6 with talent across the floor.

Here, I want to take a minute to reference Calvin Cheek. The NEC junior from Boston has 385 career steals as of this writing. The all-time NCAA men’s career steals record is currently 452 held by Juvaris Hayes of Merrimack College. Cheek is on pace to break the record and potentially reach 500.

The game was a grind as both teams defended like their lives depended on it. Two squads used to scoring 80 or more, scored in fits and bursts.

Strong defense certainly helped keep the score down.

NEC let an eight-point lead slip away in the second half thanks to timely shooting by the Jumbos.

However, the Pilgrims were able to flip the script and pull back into the lead as the half progressed. Led by 16 points from Jamal Allen and 15 points by Cheek, the Pilgrims were able to consistently stay that one step ahead of Tufts throughout the final 10 minutes.

And when it came down to the final seconds, when Tufts had a chance to tie, NEC buckled down. New England College 59, Tufts 56. Final.

Top Performer: Luke Rogers (Tufts) – 8 pts, 16 rbd, 6 blk

During the game, I was sitting at the table and got to talking with some of the student workers. Everyone there cared. From the spotter to the PA announcer, it was so refreshing to talk with students that were actively involved and cared about the event going on.

One of the guys even offered me some of the french fries that he had with dinner. They were the good crispy ones, the ones you can only find at the local pizzeria. Good fries. Good kids.


THP #10: Basketball by The Sea

University of New England vs Gordon College
Women’s Basketball
Biddeford, Maine – January 22, 2020

For the fourth time this season, we are back in The Great State of Maine. I love it here. Maine truly has a little bit of everything for everyone, and today we’re by the beach.

Biddeford, Maine is located about 15 miles south of Portland and is the sixth-largest city in the state by population (21,300). It’s also one of the oldest towns in Maine as it was first visited by Europeans in 1616 and incorporated in 1653, 133 years prior to Portland.

Today, Biddeford is a twin city with Saco, which sits directly across the Saco River. Like many New England cities and towns located on rivers, Biddeford is an old mill town in flux. The last mill closed in 2009, bringing to the close a chapter that lasted more than 150 years.

Biddeford City Hall

Old mills are turning into offices for upstart companies, microbreweries, and small art galleries. Combined with nearby Saco, it creates for a pleasant, quiet corner of New England.

Local Eats

Directly over the bridge in Saco sits Rapid Ray’s. It is a step back in time. Opened in 1953, Rapid Ray’s is a fast food original.

There are no seats in the restaurant. There’s one counter to order and a wraparound counter around the interior of the resturant to stand at and eat.

And the food is bare-bones in all the best ways. Burgers, dogs, fries, onion rings, lobster rolls. All the important New England food groups under one roof and it’s all cooked right in front of you at an inexpensive price.

I went for the standard burger, hot dog, french fry combo with a cold diet Pepsi. On a cold January afternoon it was perfect.

The dining area.
A perfect meal

The Campus

The University of New England is the largest private university in Maine and is an important institution within the state. With satellite campuses in Portland and Tangier, Morocco, as well as a stout online offering, UNE boasts a student body of almost 7,500 with a shade under 2,500 undergrads in Biddeford.

The flagship campus features almost a mile of ocean frontage and is also home to the George and Barbara Bush Center, which focuses on the family’s history with the state of Maine.

UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is the lone medical school in Maine and the College of Dental Medicine is the only dental school in Northern New England.

It’s athletic complex is on the other side of Route 9 from the bulk of the campus. The whole complex features multiple fields, including a blue football field, as well as the Harry Alfond Forum.

The Forum is a massive complex that features a full cafe, training facilities, UNE’s hockey rink, and the gymnasium.

There’ also a unique hall of fame dedicated to UNE’s long, unique history. There’s a nod to former school colors and old Westbrook College, which merged with UNE back in 1991. The original Westbrook campus morphed into UNE’s Portland satellite.

The gymnasium sits 1,200 people and is bright, vibrant, and a great place to catch a game.

The Game

For the first time during The Hoops Project we see a team for the second time. We’ve already seen Gordon College once before and know how good Meghan Foley is.

On this night she did what she does. Her game-high 19 points was almost half of Gordon’s total offense in the game.

It was all Gordon early. The Fighting Scots led by 11 midway through the third quarter and led in the fourth quarter. But the Nor’Easters were too much.

UNE closed the game on a 12-2 run to pick up the victory. UNE 58, Gordon 50. Final.

Time of game: 1:46
Top performer: Abby Cavallaro (UNE) – 17 pts, 5 rbd, 5 stl, 3 ast

As an added bonus, UNE’s men’s team won its game that night over Gordon 98-86. The mascot was quite content.

THP #9: Green Mountain

January 17, 2020 – Middlebury, Vermont
Middlebury College vs Colby College
Men’s Basketball

Vermont is a self-contained universe of small towns. It’s largest city, Burlington, is the smallest largest city in the country with a population just a shade over 42,000. The second-largest city, South Burlington, has just under 18,000 people.

Today the road took me to Middlebury, a town of just 8,500, and the ride took me through tiny towns like Bethel, a place that has less people than my high school.

Downtown Bethel, VT

What Vermont lacks in megacities it makes up for in its charm, and Middlebury is the perfect kind of charming. It’s a town straight out of central casting. A snowy hamlet in the mountains wrapped around an elite university with the history to match.

John Deere, yes, that John Deere, went to college here. Robert Frost taught at the school for more than four decades. That’s just the kind of place that Middlebury College, and the town itself, is.


It’s a bear to get to as it’s an hour off I-89 through land so remote that there is no connectivity of any type. However, once you get there it is a truly wonderful little town.

Local Eats

The Fire and Ice resturant (not connected to the chain) is a local treasure. Opened in 1974, the restaurant is a landmark in town and has the food to back it up. A quirky mishmash of trinkets and stained glass inside, Fire and Ice is a delight.

Every entree comes with a complimentary all-you-can-eat salad bar. The bar has every salad staple along with chickpeas, sushi, and pasta salad among its options.

There is also a well-manicured boat in the middle of the salad room.

The boat.

The dining rooms were exactly what you would think from a cozy, family-owned New England restaurant. Soft lighting, stained glass, books set upon the walls.

What made the night even better was that I was meeting my friend Clayton, A native Vermonter, Clayton is one of many groovy people I’ve met in my sports travels. An author, a traveler, and a member of SABR, Clayton’ the kind of guy who loves his state and loves the theatricality of sports.

He was also picking up dinner that night, and I’m never one to say a negative thing about someone like that.

If you had told me the best cheesesteak I’d ever have would be in Northwest Vermont I’d have said there’s no way. But that sandwich could compete with any of Philly’s best.

The Campus

Middlebury has just 2,500 students but just a shade over $1 billion in its endowment. With that comes resources unavailable to most D3 schools, or for that fact many D1 institutions.

It shows the most with the main athletic building on campus. Enclosed within is the indoor track, pool, ice arena, and the gym. There could very well be more but that’s just what I walked by on my way to the game.

Middlebury’s indoor track complex
Kenyon Ice Arena can hold 2,600 people
The Natatorium

The Game

Pepin Gymnasium is nice and cozy. Sitting a compact 1,200 people, the room is no-frills in the best possible way.

Pepin Gymnasium

One quirk of the room is its baseline. Due to the gym being housed in a Quonset hut-esque building, it means that pillars extend a little too close to the court on the baseline which creates one of the more unique padding setups in college basketball.

The contest was a massive one in Division III. It was 12th-ranked and unbeaten Colby traveling west to play the fifth-ranked Panthers.

The game had an added energy due to Noah Tyson. A native of nearby Castleton, the sophomore had a large and vocal cheering section right behind the Colby bench.

Tyson finished with 11 points and six rebounds. Check out a nifty layup from Tyson late in the first half.

The game was an excellent one. Colby led by 10 in the first half but couldn’t shake the Panthers. Middlebury eventually took the lead, 71-69 with 5:52 left but Colby took the lead back for good less than a minute later and put it away with this three:

Colby 89, Middlebury 82. Final.

Top performer for Colby: Alex Dorion -23 points
Top performer for Middlebury: Jack Farrell – 20 points, six rebounds

Time of game – 1:30


THP #8: The Seacoast

January 15, 2020 – Durham, New Hampshire
UAlbany v University of New Hampshire
Men’s Basketball

Basketball is beautiful. Basketball is pain. This is a story about the latter, the agony that only basketball can create.

However, before you can feel the pain you must first know where you are. With that, welcome to Durham, New Hampshire and the flagship campus of the University of New Hampshire.

Durham is a quaint little college town located 70 minutes north of Boston, 15 minutes away from Portsmouth and the beautiful New Hampshire seacoast.

Take a ride with me through Newmarket and into the heart of Durham.

The town

Downtown Durham is basically one road that runs through campus and dumps out you by the exit to get back to the interstate.

There’s plenty of places to eat and shop just like you’d expect in a college town.

Downtown Durham

Look at that photo. See the place on the right with the white storefront? That’s Libby’s, and that’s the place to get a bite to eat in Durham.

It’s a quintessential sports bar with the grub to match.

The main seating area. The bar features a pool table and darts

And the food does not disappoint. I went with a Caesar salad and a black bean burger. The salad was good, and a few more croutons would have moved it into my top four.The burger, though…that was something else. It’s hard to find a good black bean burger that isn’t mush, and Libby’s delivered. Also, waffle fries. Everything is better with waffle fries.

For only about 20 bucks you can get a good bite in a good spot.

The Venue

Lundholm Gymnasium is just that, a gymnasium. It’s a no-frills room that hosts UNH’s basketball, volleyball, and gymnastics teams.

The whole building is the heart of athletics on campus. From team offices to storage to production facilities to the communications department, everything is in that building. It even houses the indoor track, which is across the hall from the gym.

One neat thing is the historical gallery of UNH athletics. Panels upon panels line the wall of former UNH teams, dating as far back as the 19th century.

The Wildcats have little history of success on the basketball court. The women’s program won the America East regular season title in 2017 and the men have only ever advanced as far as the conference tournament semifinals.

The Game

UNH and Albany only play heart attacks. The previous 10 meetings were decided by an average of 6.7 points. Tonight was no different. The teams went back forth throughout.

UNH, which won five games last season, had a chance to hold on and pick up its ninth win of the season. Then this happened.

UNH did have one last chance to close the show. Up a point in the final seconds of overtime, all the Wildcats had to do was find a way to maintain possession. They couldn’t.

That’s just the way basketball be sometimes. Albany 76, UNH 73. Final/OT.

Time of game 2:23
Cheapest ticket price: $7

A few weeks after this game I was back at UNH covering the Wildcats women’s team. After the game I ran into the football coach, Sean McDonnell. He had taken a leave of absence before football season to focus on his health after a cancer diagnosis.

But there he was, looking his spry self and making sure that every chair was perfectly aligned with the tables of the room.

We chatted a bit and caught up. He has the type of personality that makes him your friend after 15 minutes. He was talking about recruits the team had on campus from all over the country while also complaining how people need to take better care of the athletic facilities.

I said he sounded like the “old man yells at cloud” joke from The Simpsons. He gave a good hearty laugh before turning out down the hall to meet the recruits.

Durham. Nice little town.

THP #7: The Edge

January 11, 2020 – Medford, Massachusetts
Lesley vs UMass-Boston
Men’s Basketball

Welcome to the edge. Take one step further and you fall down the abyss. This is the farthest reaches of college basketball. The Kuiper Belt. This is a place where most do not think to tread.

This is Lesley University’s men’s basketball facility. This is the gym at Medford High School.

To understand how I found myself walking around a brutalist concrete building in the northern suburbs of Boston on a hot January afternoon we must first understand the unique identity of Lesley.

Lesley University is located in Cambridge and has roughly 7,400 students but only 2,600 undergraduates. Among its academic offerings, there are programs in specific areas such as expressive therapies, counseling, and fine arts. It isn’t a school driven by its athletic teams.

The school is also located four miles from Medford High, and getting through the Boston traffic can make that drive take almost 40 minutes. Add all these variables into the pot together and you get a team that is winless and a program that has two winning seasons in the last 14.

I chatted with the school’s custodian on my way out of the gym and he told me that Lesley paid to put down a full hardwood court to keep in line with NCAA guidelines as MHS had a rubber court. The track surrounding the court is still rubber.

But at least there’s a Lesley logo on the court.

Getting In

One would think that the best way into a high school would be through the front door. Not today. There was some type of weekend school program so I was told to walk around to the back of the school.

So I did. I walk to the door and went in only to be met by a locked door in the inner vestibule.

Back out I went. It was up a 43-step staircase and through the loading dock before I found a door propped open by a chair and heard the ever-familiar noise of Jordans squeaking on hardwood. I had finally made it.

The Game

There was a curtain drawn midway through the gym and a youth league playing on the other side.

About 10 minutes before tipoff a ref walks over to me as I sit courtside at the midline and jokingly asks how I was able to afford these seats. I responded, laughed, stayed for the first few minutes and moved to the top row. I found $2 under the bleachers so at least the expedition netted me a future Fresca.

There were 25 people in the stands at tipoff.

Lesley basketball is not good. The men’s program is winless this season and won nine or fewer games seven times last decade. The Lynx lost their first two games of the season by nine and 11 points, respectively and have lost the ensuing games by an average of 35.5 points.

And this game went to script. UMass-Boston showed why it’s one of the top teams in the Little East this year. The Beacons jumped out early and never let up. A 10-point lead ballooned to 15 and to 20. UMass Boston won 90-64.

Dasan Cinelli finished with 30 points while Malik Lorquet had a double-double with 10 points and 10 boards.

It wasn’t for a lack of trying by the Lynx either. Chase Howard had 27 points on 8-13 shooting. Kostas Tatsis had 14 points and 10 boards in 23 minutes off the bench. But being minus-15 on the glass and shooting 19-66 will do in anyone.

Time of game: 1:42

THP #6: 4.2 Miles

January 9, 2020 – Beverly, Massachusetts
Endicott v Gordon

Sometimes you love your neighbors. Sometimes you want to constantly express your displeasure at their existence.

For Endicott College and Gordon College, close quarters does not make for a pleasant relationship. Located a 12-minute drive apart up Route 127 and through Pride’s Landing and Beverly Farms, it’s exclusively mutual disdain and contempt between the Gulls and the Fighting Scots.

It’s made more intense by the recent success of the two programs. On the men’s side, one of the two schools has made every conference title game since 2012. Gordon also won the league in 2010.

On the women’s side, Endicott was the league runner up in 2019.

Even though the students were away on break, the games drew a nice crowd. This year had the added touch of featuring some of the greatest players either school had ever seen.

The Venue

Located in Beverly, Mass., Endicott College was founded in 1939 and has since grown to be a school of just more than 5,000 people.

Today the school hangs its hat on its internship program as every Endicott student is required to put in thee internships, which means they are learning experientially almost immediately after getting to campus.

Fun fact: Beverly Hills is named after Beverly Farms, the neighborhood where Endicott is located, as it was a favorite vacation spot for then-president William Howard Taft.

The Gulls basketball teams today play at the Post Center. As with many Division III schools, the Post Center is an athletics venue and a student rec center as well as a place for classes and meetings.

A neat quirk of Endicott athletics is that club sports are outwardly treated just as prominently as varsity sports. The club teams get their own tabs on the athletic site just like the varsity teams.

Club teams even get banners in the gym after winning championships.

The Women’s Game

As many Division III schools do in New England, the basketball teams play doubleheaders as a way to cut down on travel costs.

Tonight, the women led off and Gordon was led by Meghan Foley. The day this game was played she was the leading female scorer in all of Division III and the third-leading scorer across the entire NCAA.

As of this writing she has dropped to second and fourth in those categories, but 25.1 points a game is nothing to sneeze at. The native of Malden, Mass. is going to finish as the program’s second-leading scorer.

Meghan Foley (in blue)

And on this night she was a machine. Foley went for 19 points in the first half as the Fighting Scots raced to a 14-point lead.


Endicott made it exciting in the second half and even cut it to a one-score game, but they didn’t have Meghan Foley. Foley finished with 33. It was her third-best scoring performance of the season.

Gordon 90, Endicott 82. Final
Time of game – 1:30

The Men’s Game

When it comes to the best scorers in men’s college basketball, the name that instantly comes up is Markus Howard. The Marquette senior has been a scoring machine in his time in Milwaukee and, as of this writing, leads Division I in scoring with 27.3 points a game.

Gordon senior Eric Demers is averaging 33.6 a game. He is currently the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,974 points with 10 games left in the season. And he’s not even the only all-time leading scorer in the game.

Endicott senior Keith Brown has been a ridiculous scorer his whole career. A two-time state champion at Pelham High in Pelham, NH, Brown can reasonably hit a shot from anywhere inside the halfcourt line.

Averaging 21 points a game, as of this writing, Brown sits less than 100 points away from breaking Kamahl Walker’s school record of 1894 and is also an excellent facilitator.

Brown grew from a bench player his freshman year on a Sweet 16 team to a star. He’s scoring less as a senior than as a sophomore, but those dimes are adding up into dollars for the Gulls.

And both players stepped up in what turned out to be a ridiculous game. Brown flashed his court vision and cashed in some dimes.

Gordon led 39-36 at half. Demers had a rough first half with 12 points on 5-14 shooting. Brown had 15.

Now, once the teams flipped ends Demers put the game in his pocket. His second half was 16 points on 5-11 shooting and 4-8 from three. Just look at the nonsense he was pulling out of universe.

It was ridiculous. Forty minutes couldn’t contain the game. Tied at 76, five more was put on the board.

The OT was as nip/tuck as regulation. In the final minute, Endicott found themselves up 86-83 and then this happened.

With the game tied at 86, Endicott was unable to score the ball and gave Gordon a chance to escape Post with a win, and it appeared they did with a layup at the horn by Parker Omslaer.

However, a foul was called. Two made free throws by Endicott with a second left did the trick. Endicott 88, Gordon 86. Final.

Do you think it was a foul?

Eric Demers: 31 points
Keith Brown: 28 pts, 6 rbd, 5 ast, 7 stl

Time of game – 1:44