Game 025:at Providence 79, Brown 63 Monday, January 3, 2005 Dunkin' Donuts Center - Providence, Rhode Island
A few weeks back, I was catching up with an old aquaintance from my days out at Oregon. He was telling me about this wedding he went to last summer in western Massachusetts. I was made to understand that it was all quite the hassle - the tarmac-only airports, quaint local customs and medieval food choices made New England seem like a whole 'nother country.
"The absolute worst thing about it," he said. "I couldn't find a Starbucks. Nothing but Dunkin' Goddamned Donuts everywhere."
The Starbucks brass out in Seattle must be confunded to tears trying to figure out why they can't achieve meaningful market penetration in New England. I'm not surprised, though - Dunkin' Donuts is as indelibly linked with the region's soul as are the Red Sox, clam chowdah and Subaru wagons. There's something semi-religious about a warm cup of Dunkin' joe on a cold January day - the way the clerk scoops in the cream and sugar first; that crazy snap-contraption that keeps the lid ventilated; the bland watery blend that offers a sugary, caffeinated jolt and not much else.
So it's definitely not the quality that keeps the Siren at bay. Believe it or not, a large part of the company's success is due to their "commitment to education." At Dunkin' Donuts University in the Boston suburb of Quincy, franchisees go to major in French crullers and minor in Boston Creme. (Rumors that the DDU basketball team regularly terrorizes the NAIA are completely untrue, as are the tales about their epic overtime battles against Hamburger University).
Yes, Dunkin' Donuts is so good at nailing their demographics, so adept at marketing its product lines, that it has ascended to the naming-rights league alongside the banks, airlines and phone companies. In case you're an ex-pat who hasn't been back east for a while, Providence's Dunkin' Donuts Center is not a sparkling new multi-million dollar arena, and it isn't a factory store that gives tours or offers snapshots with the company's big-cup-of-coffee mascot.
Nope, the DDC is just the dumb old Civic Center off I-95 with a different name, where the baby Bruins play minor-league hockey and the Dave Matthews Band shows up every so often. The recently-christened "Dunk" is one in an aging class of upwardly-mobile sports arenas of the Sixties and Seventies (think Kansas City's Kemper Arena or Reunion Arena in Dallas) that now look faded, shopworn and hopelessly cheesy. I'm sure that folks back then thought these buildings would last forever... a warning against anyone who would fall too deeply in love with the current crop of glass-and-steel palaces. Remember these days when the cyber-tronic sports meccas of the future are finally built, with their robotic food service, floating seats and holographic ushers.
And so, on a drizzly Monday night in early January, the Providence Friars closed out their non-conference schedule with their annual meeting against cross-town non-rivals Brown. Your humble narrator last encountered the Friars as they were receiving the business end of a 13-over-4 Tournament upset from Pacific in Kansas City. Last year's center, Marcus Douthit, went off to play for the Los Angeles Lakers, but not before being nailed with a 125-count embezzlement indictment. Brown's kids... well, they tend to be a little more well-behaved. Off-court business aside, this game figured to be a quick sugary snack for the team from the black-and-blue Big East, and that's exactly what it was.
Brown came out of the gate full of nervous energy and underclassman enthusiasm, and played their tall and bulky citymates pretty much even for most of the first half. The score was tied 24-24 with about eight minutes left before the break, and there was a palpable buzz brewing among the miniscule Brown fan contingent.
But out of the third media timeout, the Friars decided enough was enough and floored the gas pedal for five minutes. As PC ended up outscoring Brown by only three points in the garbage time that made up the entirety of the second half, this was the only stretch the real Friars showed up. And not suprisingly, it appears that the Friars without Ryan Gomes would be the hole without the donut.
Yes, Ryan Gomes is very good. He's perhaps the most devastating and exquisitely-skilled player we ended up encountering here in the now-complete first quarter of the 100 Games Project. He can chew into defenses like a five-pack of Munchkins, he has enough post-up moves to fill out a set of trading cards, and he can step back and stroke a picture-perfect trey whenever the mood strikes him. But he is wise to pad his National Player Of The Year resumé before conference play starts; Gomes' supporting cast appears to be a standard array of Big East thug-ballers of varying skill. The only other Friar that showed real flash and flair was a tall, headbanded sophomore guard by the name of Dwight Brewington. He had 13 points to complement Gomes' 24.
Once the game was decided, there was little else to do for the remaining 24 minutes but scout the Bears for their upcoming run at second place in the Ancient Eight behind mighty Princeton. The most impressive player in a seal-brown uni on this evening was reigning Ivy League Player Of The Year Jason Forte (brother of where-is-he-now North Carolina headcase and wasted Celtics draft pick Joe); but he was given a seat after 16 minutes of action so that the younger member of coach Glen Miller's orchestra could get some cuts in.
Six-foot-seven Luke Ruscoe is the only other returning starter, and he was little more than mobile meat last year - he's added a few dimensions to his game, and led the Bears with 12 points. Freshman Caucasian speedbug Damon Huffman got a full half-an-hour of playing time, and made the most of it. He switched between point and two-guard, adeptly handled the ball on nearly every Brown possession, and tallied seven points and three assists.
Providence built a 24-point cushion in the second half, but when the horn sounded and a 6-6, 260-lb. sophomore by the name of Sam Manhanga stepped on the floor, good things started to happen. The big Mozambiquan, who displayed the ass-wiggling Barkley style that makes this reporter jump up and down with glee, had a yawner of a box score line (2-for-8 shooting, one rebound in nine minutes); but he cleared out space, drew fouls and deposited his shiny bald self under Providence's collective skin. It was during his nine minutes on the floor that the Bears managed to halve the Friar lead.
The Friars did manage to keep their opponents blown out, but flashed the same lacksadaisical attitude that doomed them against Pacific back in March - an approach that will likely doom them against the Big East's true powers. Providence may be "Friartown," and the DDC may be where PC hangs its banners, but the Brown Bears are much more the embodiment and typification of the spirit of Dunkin' Donuts University's most famous alumnus.
Fred the Baker... now there was a dude who was well aware that it was never not time to make the donuts.