NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Bryant University occupies the strange NCAA purgatory between Division I and Division II. It has been going through the transitional process since 2007, when it accepted an invitation to the Northeast Conference. Since 2008-09, the team has played a full Division I schedule, and since 2009-10 a full NEC schedule, but it remains ineligible for play in the conference or NCAA tournaments until next season. Realistically, this is irrelevant, as Bryant's best Division I season to date ended with a 9-21 record. Divisional transitions are rarely easy.
I should point out my weird connection to and feelings about Bryant. When I was a freshman at Ohio University, during the 2007-08 season, the Bobcats were led by a man named Tim O'Shea. His foray in Athens was positively average, with a .558 winning percentage and one NCAA tournament bid over seven years. Not a poor performance, but not exactly the "next level" he promised when hired.
O'Shea never seemed to fit in among the locals in Athens, and the fan base was a bit restless by spring 2008, as his name seemed to pop up in connection with every East Coast job that opened: Brown, UMass, Providence, etc. None of us imagined that, failing to land any of those positions, he'd opt to lead transitioning Bryant, but in March 2008, Bryant announced an eight-year deal for their new head man. At least if he promised the "next level" at Bryant, one could argue he's already delivered; the team is playing a Division I schedule, after all.
Tonight, Bryant traveled to New Haven to participate in the fourth-annual "Battle of the Bulldogs" with Yale University. I took a self-guided tour of Yale's beautiful campus despite the rain and discovered as I went past Payne Whitney Gymnasium that there was a women's contest to be played as part of a doubleheader with the men. I hastened my tour, grabbed a quick dinner and made it to the court shortly before halftime.
The first thing I noticed as I stepped inside the gym (other than the positively gorgeous Gothic architecture) was that it was LOUD considering the relatively small crowd. The sounds of basketball and the pep band reverberated off every surface, as the sounds of the game enveloped you. The Bulldog women mounted a strong comeback against a 16-point halftime deficit but fell short, losing 59-54 to visiting Boston University.
As the women's game ended and I settled into a bleacher seat closer to the court, I realized something odd was happening. More people (mostly BU fans) were leaving than entering. The pep band left. The crowd for the "Battle of the Bulldogs" ended up being smaller (but not much quieter; this is a loud building), and there was no live music for the men.
The contest was, if you'll pardon the horrendous pun, an absolute dogfight throughout the first half, which ended in a 27-27 tie. Neither team led by more than five points through the first 25 minutes of play, and the game featured 12 lead changes and nine ties before Yale finally began to put it away with around five minutes remaining.
Bryant folded near the end of the game, but in no way does the 17-point spread on the final score tell the story of the game. Bryant looked about as solid as a team with just a lone win on the season can, and I expect this season won't end with a single win, as the 2009-10 campaign did.
at YALE 76, BRYANT 59 12/07/2011
BRYANT 1-8 (0-2) -- D. Calandrillo 3-6 1-1 8; F. Dobbs 1-6 2-2 5; C. Maynard 6-10 1-4 15; A. Francis 4-6 1-2 10; V. Kondratyev 4-7 0-2 8; C. McMath 4-8 0-0 10; B. Altit 1-2 0-0 2; J. Harris 0-2 1-2 1; E. Smith 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-48 6-13 59. YALE 7-2 (0-0) -- G. Mangano 7-14 6-7 21; A. Morgan 3-7 2-2 10; R. Willhite 3-9 1-2 8; J. Kreisberg 2-6 2-2 6; M. Grace 0-5 7-8 7; I. Salafia 1-1 1-2 4; B. Sherrod 4-4 2-3 10; M. Townsend 1-1 0-0 2; S. Martin 1-3 0-0 3; J. Pritchard 1-1 0-0 3; W. Bartlett 0-0 0-0 0; W. Childs-Klein 0-0 0-0 0; A. Cotton 0-0 0-0 0; J. Duren 0-0 2-2 2; G. Kelley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-51 23-28 76.
Three-point goals: BRY 7-17 (F. Dobbs 1-4; D. Calandrillo 1-3; E. Smith 0-1; C. McMath 2-4; A. Francis 1-3; C. Maynard 2-2), YALE 7-16 (G. Mangano 1-3; R. Willhite 1-3; M. Grace 0-1; S. Martin 1-2; A. Morgan 2-5; J. Pritchard 1-1; I. Salafia 1-1); Rebounds: BRY 27 (V. Kondratyev 6), YALE 28 (G. Mangano 9); Assists: BRY 14 (F. Dobbs 5), YALE 15 (R. Willhite 3); Total Fouls -- BRY 22, YALE 14; Fouled Out: BRY-None; YALE-None.