I'm pulling for Hartford. I don't care that my buddy Jack is decked out in full Nittany Lions' gear and that 4,500 vociferous PSU fans have gotten over Coach Paterno's dismissal long enough to join us at the Bryce Jordan Centre for a basketball game.
Hartford's top assistant is my friend Drew Dawson. In 2006 we spoke almost daily as he was recruiting my son for the Patriot League's Lafayette College. After Jared's freshman year Drew moved on to Hartford to join Dan Leibovitz's staff and, after a change at the Hartford helm, now finds himself helping second year Hawk's Coach John Gallagher in bringing around a team heavy with freshman content. We've stayed in touch. He's a good man and a great basketball clinician. He's my vested interest and why I'm a Hawks booster today.
But this game won't be an easy one. Penn State, returning to action this season after getting to the Big Dance for the first time since 2001, have all the accoutrements of a team above The Red Line. A pro-style arena, including a state-of-the-art, hi-def centre hung scoreboard, a full-on stage show to entertain the fans, Big Ten power and of course money!
Nittany Lions basketball does have a cross to bear though. They are the poor cousins to football on campus and former head coach Ed De Chellis' defection to mid-major Navy this season is testament to the struggles that hoops has in State College, PA. The cost of admission to today's game is free and the match has been billed as the partner to the PSU vs. Nebraska football game. Beaver Stadium, right next door to the Bryce Jordan Centre, seats 107,000 and yet the 15,000 seat BJC sits largely empty for the contest.
The Hartford Hawks have struggled in recent years and new sets coupled with youth will not make this year any easier. The Hawks offense is methodical, using a series of dribble hand-offs, back cuts and slip screens to spring teammates open. Penn State counters by forcing the pace, it's guards driving to the hoop with abandon and the front court players dominating the offensive boards.
At the 6:02 mark of the game Hartford's Genesis Maciel executes a nice spin move and scores to bring the Hawks to a single-point deficit of 21-20, but by 3:30 PSU is up 27-20. The Nittany Lions have ramped up their defense with a half-court trap that forces many bad decisions and passes by the Hawks. At halftime it's 32-22.
The visitor's shooting percentage declines in the second half as Penn State's accuracy increases. A recipe for disaster for my team of choice. With the clock showing 11:57 remaining to play, my callow favorites are down by 13, 50-37 and it appears that the Red Line Upset is out of reach.
More Hawks' defensive lapses and a failure to hit from the outside leads to a further decline in their prospects. The score is 65-44 with 3:48 to play on the way to a 70-55 finale.. It's nothing that a year of experience won't remedy. These kids are good and I know my man Drew will do his best to make a difference. I'm still pulling for Hartford.
at PENN STATE 70, HARTFORD 55 11/12/2011
HARTFORD 0-2 (0-0) -- C. Brothers 0-3 0-1 0; Y. Moore II 1-4 4-4 6; G. Maciel 3-9 0-0 8; A. Torres 3-4 0-2 7; W. Cole 4-11 0-1 12; M. Nwakamma 2-3 3-4 8; J. Schneck 2-2 0-1 4; C. Wroe 3-4 1-2 7; N. Sikma 1-4 1-1 3; R. Baker 0-0 0-0 0; O. Faulk 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-44 9-16 55. PENN STATE 1-0 (0-0) -- M. Glover 2-8 2-7 7; T. Lewis 7-13 0-1 17; T. Frazier 4-11 8-9 16; C. Woodyard 4-13 2-4 14; S. Borovnjak 2-2 0-2 4; B. Oliver 2-4 1-1 6; N. Colella 1-4 0-0 3; R. Travis 1-3 0-0 2; J. Graham 0-6 1-2 1; P. Ackerman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-64 14-26 70.
Three-point goals: HART 8-26 (A. Torres 1-2; G. Maciel 2-7; C. Brothers 0-2; W. Cole 4-11; M. Nwakamma 1-1; Y. Moore II 0-2; N. Sikma 0-1), PSU 10-23 (C. Woodyard 4-7; B. Oliver 1-3; T. Frazier 0-1; N. Colella 1-2; M. Glover 1-4; T. Lewis 3-6); Rebounds: HART 31 (C. Brothers 7), PSU 36 (C. Woodyard 7); Assists: HART 13 (C. Brothers 4), PSU 13 (T. Frazier 6); Total Fouls -- HART 24, PSU 22; Fouled Out: HART-None; PSU-R. Travis.