Sometime during TMM12, I will look back on this New Year's Eve affair as the game where it all went off the rails for me. The one where I got hooked on insanity.
Until now, I had only recapped Akron and Kent State. No big deal. I go to UA games all the time, and despite their lowly status in Zippyland, I'll occasionally hit the MAC Center as well. This, however, was the first game where I can definitively say that I would not have been in attendance if not for the 800 Games Project and my desire to get something different under my belt.
"Something different" in this instance was Sojka Pavilion, Bucknell University's gorgeous gymnasium. Opened in 2003, it's part of a larger complex that also includes the school's natatorium, visible through windows on one side of the concourse, and other facilities.
Bucknell and I weren't complete strangers, although we only knew of each other through friends of friends and met only once at a party a couple years ago. For about a decade, I've been driving past the school on the side of US 15 to visit the in-laws in Selinsgrove, Pa., roughly 10 miles south of BU's home base in Lewisburg. However, I had ventured on to campus but once that entire time. Still, the school's proximity to my Facebook friends allowed an "I want to go to a Bison basketball game" status to be answered with two in section P, row A.
The front row is quite an amazing experience, although there is a tradeoff. While it allows you to definitively determine that no, you couldn't have played D-I ball, the ability to overview from higher up is underrated until it takes you a couple seconds to figure out if the defense is zone or man. But all in all, it's a fantastic experience, and I repeatedly marveled at the closeness of everything, including media row a couple feet away.
Since I couldn't play college hoops, I once thought that I would be a great radio announcer (the next best thing, right?), but close observation of the man in front of me -- who I later determined to be Cornell play-by-play man Barry Leonard -- taught me otherwise. His little section of the table seemed to be bowed under the weight of paperwork, most of it information about Bucknell's team with highlighted excerpts (this stood in stark contrast to the guy updating Cornell's Twitter account...maybe I'd be good at that). On every single scoring play, Leonard would make notes on two different sheets of paper. One kept a running total of the score, helping him to identify runs. The other, I couldn't see quite as well, but it looked to track individual stats.
Leonard didn't need to refer to either sheet all that frequently in the first half, where the Bison scored six points in the first 14 minutes. BU's flatness mirrored the gameday experience with the undergrads on winter break: mostly-empty student sections, no pep band, no cheerleaders or dance team. That left a husky kid in a tight-fitting polo and khakis to walk the sidelines tossing t-shirts during timeouts. I suppose those who caught one weren't complaining.
Late in the first half, and continuing into the second half, things started to fall into place for the Bison. This phenomenon was epitomized by star center Mike Muscala, who was held scoreless by a CU gameplan focused on stopping him for the first 20, but he went off for 18 after that. His defense and rebounding were sturdy for all 40, as proven when Cornell was foolish enough to venture inside or audacious enough to think they were entitled to possession after the many Bucknell misses. By the time Muscala's layup tied the game at his uniform number, 31, early in the second half, it had become painfully obvious that the Big Red had not taken full advantage of BU's shaky start.
While Muscala was undoubtedly the player of the game for the Bison, Bryson Johnson, a junior guard from that hoops hotbed of Nova Scotia, Canada, probably best reflected his team. He was as cold as his hometown in January early, missing his first three shots (and five others of his 11 total from the field), but he kept gunning, and his superhoop with 4:23 left in the first half helped wake up the scoreboard. He added others to give BU 36-31 and 59-54 leads, and then three of four from the line to maintain that five-point lead. The last of those foul shots came with 21 seconds left, but the Big Red, which seemed to be safely at arm's length for most of the second half, had one more push left. Two, actually.
Johnson's ugly, lunging turnover into the hands of Johnathan Gray -- more or less a one-man show for CU all game long -- created the first of two last-ditch bombs for Cornell. The rebound went out of bounds, but Gray stole the inbound pass, took the second attempt himself, and still missed.
It probably wasn't the fate imagined by Big Red coach Bill Courtney, a Bucknell alumnus, when his gameplan worked to perfection in the early going. An easier destiny to foresee: a return trip to Sojka.
at BUCKNELL 63, CORNELL 60 12/31/2011
CORNELL 4-8 (0-0) -- D. Ferry 3-6 0-0 9; J. Gray 5-14 6-7 18; C. Wroblewski 3-7 5-6 11; J. Figini 1-4 2-2 4; S. Miller 1-9 0-0 3; D. Tarwater 3-3 0-1 6; G. Cancer 2-3 3-4 7; D. Giddens 0-1 0-2 0; E. Chemerinski 0-1 2-2 2; D. Cherry 0-0 0-0 0; M. Groebe 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-48 18-24 60. BUCKNELL 9-6 (0-0) -- M. Muscala 7-15 4-6 18; C. Ayers 2-6 0-0 4; B. Cohen 3-7 7-7 13; B. Fitzpatrick 3-7 1-4 7; B. Johnson 3-11 3-5 12; J. Willman 3-7 1-2 7; R. Hill 1-3 0-0 2; S. Kaspar 0-2 0-0 0; J. Singleton 0-0 0-0 0; B. Brackney 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-58 16-24 63.
Three-point goals: CORN 6-18 (C. Wroblewski 0-2; J. Gray 2-8; J. Figini 0-2; D. Ferry 3-4; S. Miller 1-2), BUCK 3-15 (B. Cohen 0-2; B. Johnson 3-9; C. Ayers 0-3; R. Hill 0-1); Rebounds: CORN 29 (C. Wroblewski 5), BUCK 38 (M. Muscula 13); Assists: CORN 9 (C. Wroblewski 7), BUCK 10 (B. Cohen 3); Total Fouls -- CORN 24, BUCK 19; Fouled Out: CORN-E. Chemerinski; BUCK-J. Willman.