"The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry." - Robert Burns
I call it the Connecticut Triangle (feel free to give me a better moniker, that's not terribly creative). It consists of the three Northeast Conference schools in the state: Quinnipiac, Central Connecticut, and Sacred Heart, all three fairly equidistant from each other, and none of whom could touch the Red Line if they were standing on the shoulders of a seven-footer.
Of course, being so far below the Red Line, there's no way in hell any of those teams are getting a seven-footer, but just saying.
But the trio gives me some Division I action without having to leave the comfort of my home state (Conn. actually has seven D-I teams with UConn, Yale, Hartford, and Fairfield included).
All three NEC teams were home Saturday afternoon, and my plan was to go see Central, probably the best of trio, take on 2009 and 2010 champion Robert Morris, who nearly knocked off Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2010. Led By Ken Horton, the Blue Devils beat the Colonials to go to 4-0 in the NEC, but I wasn't there.
Second choice was probably Long Island - the defending champ - at Quinnipiac, and Jamal Olasewere didn't disappoint as the Blackbirds held off the Bobcats to stay undefeated in conference play. But I wasn't there, either.
I got an offer to cover high school hockey for the local paper, the top two teams in the state, but more importantly it was a paying gig, and as entrepreneur Ted DiBiase used to say, "Every man has his price," and with the hockey game in Bridgeport (even though Connecticut is a tiny state), there was no way I was making it to Quinnipiac or Central.
But, thinking through it, I could make it to Sacred Heart. The hockey game was at 1 p.m., tipoff in Fairfield (just 10 minutes away) was at 3:30. If the hockey game went fast, I could quickly get my interviews, go to the basketball game, and then write my story from there.
To my astonishment, they started the hockey game a couple of minutes early, there was no overtime, I beat the traffic (sadly the crowd at the hockey game was probably about five times as big as the Sacred Heart game) and sprinted in to see Sacred Heart-St. Francis (N.Y.) just as they were about to tip-off.
Obviously it was my third choice on the afternoon, and the crowd and atmosphere reflected such. Now starving, there were no concessions at the Pitt Center. The sound system continually made annoying, loud crackling sounds until they finally shut it down for the afternoon.
One thing I like about Sacred Heart, however, is the local angle. The Pioneers have eight Nutmeggers on the roster, one of whom is freshman Phil Gaetano. I watched Gaetano play plenty in high school, and he won a state championship with his father Joe as a coach. Although a great high school player, at just 5-foot-10, it was hard to see Phil as a Division I player, but there he was Saturday, getting his second career start for Sacred Heart in a big conference game.
I was sitting a couple of rows behind the Gaetanos, who were soon joined by Phil's extended family, including his little nephew. After Phil turned the ball over (his only one of the day) and found his way to the bench with his third foul, Joe decided to walk the grounds with his grandson.
The Pioneers started NEC play with an unexpected bang, but injuries left them with only nine players dressed Saturday. The biggest injury was to sophomore Evan Kelley, who was hurt Thursday in a tough loss to Long Island. Ironically, it was Kelley, who spent the day on crutches, was on the cover of the game program. With Kelley and Gaetano now out, a bad situation - SHU trailed 33-21 when Gaetano picked up his third foul - turned ugly for Sacred Heart. By halftime, The Terriers - who I had seen the week before lose to Army - led 53-31 and the competitive portion was essentially over.
At halftime, I was able to take a stroll around the virtually empty facility (attendance was announced at 451). Surprisingly, I saw one of the players in the hockey game I had just covered. It turned out his mom taught SHU sophomore Chris Evans and they came to support him. Evans had 24 points to lead the Pioneers.
I also saw a couple of local officials I knew who were working the clock. One of them is a big-time football referee who just came back from the Chick-Fil-A Bowl.
The Pioneers made a mini-run or two, but unofficially conceded the most dunks ever in an NEC game (we don't see too many #omgdunx in the NEC), and Ben Mockford - blanked on Thursday by Quinnipiac - hit eight three-pointers on his way to 28 points (the Terriers were 15-of-27 from long range).
To finish the local angle, at the final media time out, the SHU cheerleaders went to toss T-shirts out to the crowd, which at this point was probably a ratio of two fans per every shirt. Alas, wouldn't you know it? The cheerleader standing in front of our section was one of my former students. And I still didn't get the T-shirt. "I didn't think you wanted it," she said afterward. In retrospect, she was probably right.
I felt badly for Sacred Heart, crippled by injuries, because they were never in the game and fell 99-84, now 1-3 in the NEC. Getting toward the bottom of the NEC is a problem, because it's one of the few conferences where not everyone qualifies for the post-season tournament (only eight of 12 do).
By the same token, it was a huge road win for St. Francis, now 3-1 in conference play (although only 6-9 overall). As the game got out of hand late, the Terriers had a chance to hit 100, getting the ball back with 99 late, but coach Glenn Braica got as loud as he had been all night with his bench in the game.
"Hold the ball! Hold the ball!," he yelled in an act of class you might not see from everyone in Division I (or other levels, for that matter), and so I was denied my first 100-point game for Midmajority.
Sure, it was third choice, but some live basketball is always better than no live basketball.
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 99, at SACRED HEART 84 01/07/2012
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 6-9 (3-1) -- B. Mockford 10-15 0-0 28; S. Perunicic 5-7 7-7 21; B. Jones 3-8 2-3 9; A. Johnson 4-5 2-2 10; J. Cannon 2-5 4-4 8; T. Nichols 2-4 0-0 5; J. Newton 0-0 0-0 0; M. Milk 4-6 2-2 10; P. Santavenere 2-3 0-0 5; K. Douglas 0-2 3-4 3; M. Trivic 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-55 20-22 99. SACRED HEART 7-10 (1-3) -- C. Evans 8-12 8-11 24; S. Gibson 6-16 2-2 15; L. Montes 6-9 1-2 14; J. Swidowski 7-12 1-3 18; P. Gaetano 1-1 2-2 4; N. Greenbacker 0-1 0-0 0; F. Akinpetide 0-4 0-0 0; S. Glowiak 2-3 2-2 8; S. Dulaire 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 30-58 17-24 84.
Three-point goals: SFNY 15-27 (S. Perunicic 4-6; B. Mockford 8-13; T. Nichols 1-3; B. Jones 1-2; P. Santavenere 1-2; K. Douglas 0-1), SH 7-20 (S. Gibson 1-8; N. Greenbacker 0-1; J. Swidowski 3-4; S. Glowiak 2-3; L. Montes 1-3; C. Evans 0-1); Rebounds: SFNY 29 (B. Jones 5), SH 27 (L. Montes 9); Assists: SFNY 19 (B. Jones 7), SH 15 (P. Gaetano 7); Total Fouls -- SFNY 18, SH 19; Fouled Out: SFNY-None; SH-J. Swidowski.