January 4, 2021 – Boston, Massachusetts
Northeastern vs Delaware
“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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Now the Cabot Center sits on the sit of the old ballfield along with other campus buildings.
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.