The roughly four-and-a-half hour drive from Burlington, Vermont to Uncasville, Connecticut went about as smoothly as we could have hoped given that my wife and I were traveling with both our seven year-old daughter and four year-old son. Only one stop, and enough snacks and movies in the car to make it as painless a road trip as possible. That is, until exhaustion inevitably caught up with them, the following day.
Mind you, we arrived in Uncasville on Friday afternoon, a full 26 hours before the Vermont Catamounts were scheduled to commence action against the Marist Red Foxes in game one of the "Springfield Bracket" of the Hall-of-Fame Tip-off classic played at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The purpose of arriving so early, of course, was to circumvent possible exhaustion or meltdowns as the wee ones were dragged from casino to arcade to pre-party to game venue. I suppose I underestimated the sensory overload a casino can impose upon a child unaccustomed to such sounds, lights and losing. I simply miscalculated. Badly.
Nonetheless, after the Margaritaville pre-party for the Vermont faithful who made the trek from wherever they were making their trek from, the kids seem to rally upon entry into the arena, if for no other reason than the entire place went completely dark during player introductions. Vermont doesn't engage in any such gimmicky--and tired--antics during player introductions at the Roy L. Patrick Gymnasium (it may very well be that they have considered doing so, but once the lights go down, it would probably take 12 minutes or so for them to warm back up, but still). So the darkness energized the kids, got them giggly and excited, interested in the game, and actively watching, at least for a couple of minutes.
The other factor which gave them a burst of energy was discovering that when they cheered, they could hear their echo. Apparently, this is a not-uncommon dynamic when a venue designed to seat approximately 10,000 is occupied by what seemed like around 500; about 200 of which were involved in the tournament itself in some capacity. That left roughly 300 fans, and the Vermont supporters seemed to outnumber Marist roughly four-to-one. We are a dedicated bunch, although we were all worried for just a second when the lights went out. I'm guessing Kentucky drew better in the afternoon session, but only guessing.
Vermont donned their black uniforms, so we instantly knew they were taking this game seriously. The first half seemed to have more turnovers than points and, at times, this appeared to frustrate Vermont's first-year head coach, John Becker. I say "appeared" because Vermont fans have become accustomed to a more dynamic sideline presence over the past few decades, between Tom Brennan's cheerleading and Mike Lonergan's heart attacks. Becker, to this point, seems far lower key, which perhaps should come as no surprise given that the last time he was head honcho of a basketball team he likely never yelled at all. Becker was last top dog at Gallaudet University from 1997-99. Gallaudet is the country's only four-year liberal arts college for the deaf and hearing impaired, and that includes the hoops team. So Becker gets a pass for a while, until he can find his screaming voice.
What we learned throughout this game is that if a red fox is chasing you, it's quite difficult to shake. Vermont made multiple runs, be it via back-to-back trifectas from senior Matt Glass, or smooth consecutive buckets from freshman Four McGlynn, but Marist always answered, and I mean always. Fortunately for Vermont and their fans, Marist could never quite get over the hump, as the lead fluctuated between 3 and 9 points, accordion style, for what seemed like the entire second half. A second-half that was one of the chippiest foul-fests I've ever seen. Every touch foul was getting whistled, while only a few of them were more egregious than the blatant hacks being committed by my son on my wife's face. I mean, if the action on the court was tough for me to sit through, imagine what it would be like for a tired child (or, for that matter, the child's mother who has to restrain him to prevent him from rolling down the arena steps). Unfortunately, I could not assist my wife with child care activities; I was busy taking notes for the 800 game project.
In the end, McGlynn (with a career-high 22) and sophomore forward Luke Apfeld (with a career-high 19) were the stars of the game for the Catamounts, while sophomore guard Brian Voelkel did want Vermont fans have grow to expect, delivering 8 rebounds and 7 assists, to go with an uncharacteristically high 9 points. Catamounts win, 84-75 (30-39 from the free throw line).
While defeat would have been sour for many reasons, the primary positive that resulted from the win was assurance that Vermont would play the early game tomorrow in the evening session, tipping-off around 5:30, which will hopefully minimize fussiness and nagging. Our day includes a trip to the aquarium in Mystic and, if all can be convinced, a nap before the game. And, hopefully, we won't see so many fouls tomorrow, either on the court or off.
VERMONT 84, MARIST 75 11/19/2011
MARIST 0-3 (0-0) -- G. Gantt 5-10 0-1 11; I. Morton 3-8 0-0 8; M. Thomas 1-2 5-6 7; D. Price 6-11 3-3 15; J. Bowie 4-8 1-2 10; C. Lewis 5-8 5-7 15; P. Prinsloo 1-5 0-1 2; A. Alexis 0-2 3-4 3; D. Carter 4-9 0-0 11; A. Kemp 0-0 0-0 0; T. Curry 1-2 0-0 3; R. Hall 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 25-56 18-25 75. VERMONT 2-1 (0-0) -- B. Voelkel 1-6 7-9 9; S. Carissimo 3-6 1-2 8; B. Bald 2-8 0-0 5; L. Apfeld 7-9 5-7 19; F. McGlynn 4-8 12-12 22; M. Glass 5-6 0-1 12; B. Crenca 2-2 5-8 9; P. Bergmann 0-1 0-0 0; C. Rugg 0-0 0-0 0; J. Elbaum 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-46 30-39 84.
Three-point goals: MAR 7-19 (D. Carter 3-5; R. Hall 0-1; D. Price 0-4; J. Bowie 1-1; T. Curry 1-2; I. Morton 2-6), UVM 6-14 (M. Glass 2-3; L. Apfeld 0-1; B. Bald 1-3; S. Carissimo 1-2; F. McGlynn 2-5); Rebounds: MAR 31 (P. Prinsloo 7), UVM 24 (B. Voelkel 8); Assists: MAR 9 (D. Price 3), UVM 16 (B. Voelkel 7); Total Fouls -- MAR 25, UVM 25; Fouled Out: MAR-C. Lewis; UVM-M. Glass.