HARTFORD, Conn. - Until this June, I'd lived the entirety of my life in the state of Ohio (save a three month internship last summer), and have followed my alma mater, Ohio, religiously the past four years. After graduation, I relocated to Connecticut to work for the company I interned with last summer. As the college basketball season began to gear up, I realized just how much I was going to miss free admission to every Ohio home game.
The state of Connecticut offers a veritable smorgasbord of Division I institutions. Of the seven schools, two are public universities and five are private. Enrollments range from fewer than 5,000 to more than 30,000. Endowments range from Central Connecticut State's paltry $23 million to Yale's prodigious $19.4 billion. Last season, the two least successful of the group mustered 11 wins apiece. The most successful took home the national title. I decided there was little better way to satiate my college hoops appetite and learn a bit more about the various schools and cities in my new home state than to get out on the road and tour the campus, sample the menus, and take in a game at each school's home arena.
Oddly, the first game that fit into my schedule was Maine @ Connecticut -- a home game for the only above-the-Red-Line school in the state, and played more than 25 miles from their Storrs campus in Hartford's XL Center, the one-time home of the NHL's Hartford Whalers, before they skipped town for North Carolina in 1997 after plans to renovate this 1970s era arena fell through.
I actually lived just a block away from this frankly hideous hall last summer, but tonight was the first time I'd stepped inside. Inside it has all the feeling of a pro arena years past its prime. The pre-game entertainment was... interesting. The pep band was artificially amplified through the sound system, and they had a "DJ" playing hip-hop prior to tip-off, complete with double headset action.
The game itself was a prototypical tale of two halves. After the Huskies got out to a 7-0 lead early, Maine settled down and the NCAA bid-less Black Bears played toe-to-toe with the defending national champions for the remainder of the half, going into halftime down just 5, 36-31.
In the second half, as is so often the case for those of us living below the red line, the wheels fell off. Whether the home team started to take them seriously, their conditioning took over and allowed their athletes to outlast the Black Bears, or there was simply dumb luck involved (or some combination of the three) was irrelevant: what mattered was that the Huskies started the second half on a 23 to 2 run. With every point scored, Maine appeared more and more desperate, leading to turnovers from trying to force passes into lanes too small and trying to do too much on a given play.
While tonight's game went the way it was preordained it would be when the game was placed on the schedule, I still think the outlook for the Black Bears is positive for the season. Freshman guard Justin Edwards, in particular, was impressive to me, putting up 20 points on 15 shots. If Maine can put together full games rather than halves, they stand to make some noise in the America East Conference, and improve on last season's .500 record.
at CONNECTICUT 80, MAINE 60 11/17/2011
MAINE 1-1 (0-0) -- A. Rogers 3-7 0-0 8; R. Singleton 2-9 4-4 9; A. Fraser 2-11 0-0 4; J. Edwards 7-15 4-4 20; K. Cato 3-9 0-0 8; S. Chetinov 1-1 0-0 2; X. Pollard 3-8 0-0 6; J. McAllian 1-1 0-0 3; Z. Valjarevic 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 22-62 8-8 60. CONNECTICUT 3-0 (0-0) -- J. Lamb 6-16 4-4 16; D. Daniels 4-12 5-6 15; S. Napier 3-9 0-0 8; A. Drummond 5-11 1-8 11; T. Olander 4-6 3-4 11; A. Oriakhi 7-11 2-2 16; N. Giffey 1-3 0-0 3; R. Smith 0-3 0-0 0; B. Allen 0-1 0-0 0; E. Wolf 0-0 0-0 0; K. Bailey 0-0 0-0 0; B. Stewart 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-72 15-24 80.
Three-point goals: UME 8-22 (J. McAllian 1-1; A. Rogers 2-3; R. Singleton 1-7; K. Cato 2-6; J. Edwards 2-3; X. Pollard 0-1; Z. Valjarevic 0-1), CONN 5-23 (N. Giffey 1-2; J. Lamb 0-5; S. Napier 2-6; R. Smith 0-1; B. Allen 0-1; D. Daniels 2-8); Rebounds: UME 24 (A. Fraser 5), CONN 51 (A. Drummond 14); Assists: UME 12 (A. Rogers 6), CONN 12 (J. Lamb 4); Total Fouls -- UME 22, CONN 10; Fouled Out: UME-A. Fraser; CONN-None.