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 #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.