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Our New England Basketball Weekend

Posted by athomeatfenway on March 9, 2012

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Everybody loves Cinderella in March.  I spent much of my weekend with several of them.

My boss encourages me to mingle at events where business folk congregate.   I grabbed a ticket to the Hartford CVB’s Big East Women’s Tournament networking event on Friday.  For $20, I received entry into a coffe & cookies networking half-hour, a ticket to the 1st round of the Big East Tournament, and lunch.  After making some new friends and scarfing a dog and diet pepsi, 30 of us watched the #12 Syracuse Women throw down the #13 Lady Friars of Providence, 57 – 47.  This was a game of big girls bumping and knocking each other, denying the drive, denying the shot.  Sitting 2 rows from the court, the first thing I saw was  Friar forward Teya Wright get pushed to the ground going for a rebound.  No problem.  Teya picked herself up and ran to the other end like nothing happened.  As Syracuse Head Coach Quentin Hillsman said, “Either you are going to play hard and fight or you are going to lie down and go home, and they fought hard.”

By the time the weekend was over, I had attended a total of 3 different Division I conference tournaments and in every case the advance-or-go-home pulse of March basketball was beating.

On Sunday, after the spiritually cleansing laundry duty and more physical labor, i.e., setting up a new mattresses, I drove to the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, MA, Naismith’s town.  There I saw the 7th session of the MAAC Men’s Tournament.  Iona, the 1 seed. and winner 8 of 9, faced the 4-seed, Fairfield.  The Gaels had defeated the Stags twice earlier in the season.  This game should have just been a preliminary to next week’s final against #2 Loyola.

Without a UConn dawg in the fight, my baseline interest level was mild.  My interest spiked when Ryan Olander, brother of Tyler Olander, was announced as a Fairfield starters.

Ryan O. beat Tyler O. on Dec. 22 in head-to-head competition at the XL Center.  UConn downed Fairfield, 79 – 71, but Ryan’s 8 pts, 8 rebounds and 2 steals bested Ty’s 2 points, 2 rebounds and 2 assists.

That day, UConn dodged a Fairfield bullet while being outscored in the second half 45 – 33.  The Huskies were lucky to play poorly and win that day.

That day, Ryan was the 4th best Stag after Desmond Wade, Eric Needham and especially after blue chipper Rakim Sanders.

But, on this fine Sunday at the MAAC tournament, junior Colin Nickerson hit big the shots and big 3’s to rate as the top Stag.

This up-and-down game featured hot trips, great passing, pressing defense.  This was an in-your-face physical battle.

It was mostly Iona’s game until the 6:00 minute mark of the second half.

Iona’s Scott Machado and Mike Glover had their way until they lost their legs.  Machado scored 24 and Glover 19.  But when sophomore forward Keith Matthews hit a jumper for Fairfield with 8:41 in the game, the Stags grabbed their first lead of the second half, 61 – 60.  And that is when Iona began to show fatigue.  Notably, a wasted Mike Glover missed 7 out of 10 free throws in the last 7:52 of the game.  The Gaels tied it briefly at 61 – 61, but they never led again.  Fairfield stood steady while Iona crumbled, 85 – 75 the final score.

Joy, mirth, color, bedlam and music. Cheerleaders.  Pep band pumping.  Down goes #1.  Down goes the Gaels.  Stags win.  Stags win !

Part II of my Triple Tournament Weekend had concluded.

Two-and-a-half hours later, Little Lee and I made our way up to the VIP seats at the Chase Arena at the University of Hartford.  Below us, #1 seed Stony Brook was tied 55 – 55 with the Albany Great Danes, and 5 seconds left on the clock.  This was the first game in the semi-final round of the America East Conference Tournament.

We entered the half-filled 4,000 seat gym during a time out.  The noise level was deafening.  The game restarted.  The ball was in-bounded.  Stony Brook missed a jumper.  Sea Wolf forward Dallis Joyner flipped in the rebound as time expired.

Crowd explodes.  The court is stormed.  Cheerleaders.  Pep Band pumping.  The gym is rocking.  It’s the experience desired from any level of March Madness, Division I, II  or III.

Sea Wolves move onto to the Tournament Final next week.

Little Lee and I looked at each other, speaking no words, but recognizing the amazing event we had seen transpire.  Our entertainment expectations were exceeded in the first minute we were there.

Little Lee is my preferred partner in Basketball, as she also is in almost anything.  Theatre.  Movies.  Dining.  Cooking.  Drinking Wine.  Reading.  Playing Golf.

Little Lee is a College Basketball Queen.  As a former cheerleader, she understands the game from having watched it from up close while at 25 games a year.  As a UConn Mens Fan, she has passion and volubility; her Husky T shirt appropriately says “TRUE BLUE”.

Even better, her record with winning office pools is tip top.  She has won the March Madness picking three times and finished 2nd once in the last 6 years.

She loves the Madness.

I and my favorite companion sipped red wine and watched the #2 Vermont Catamounts tangle with the #4 Hartford Hawks in the second semi-final of the night.  Little was expected out of Hartford, owners of a 9 – 22 record.  But this match featured 26 ties and 11 lead changes.   The largest lead by either team was 4 points.  Hawk star guard Andres Torres fouled out after scoring the points in regulation to force overtime.  The game was in doubt until there were 12 seconds ticked away.  Hartford fell to Vermont in double overtime by a score of 77 – 73.

Our cup runneth over.

We chose to step out of the Big East Mens hullabaloo and saw terrific D I basketball right in our own backyard.

Fantastic.

Never, never again ignore the College Tournament Basketball in our Connecticut/Western Mass home.

Make a note.  Put it in your CAL for ’13.

See you at the games.

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