For the past two-and-a-half seasons, with the exception of NCAA tournament games, the only place where I have attended basketball games was Old Dominion's Ted Constant Convocation Center. While the Ted is a fine place to see a game, it lacks the charm and history of some of the smaller, older venues of our game. The padded seats, constant corporate mentions (sponsored three-point attempts, blocks, replays and the like) and a recently added courtside section can lead one to believe they are at a NBA game instead of below the red line. With a 42-hour break in my finals schedule, I decided to seek out a scene more representative of Hoops Nation. Fortunately, I didn't have to look far to find that game.
The city of Norfolk, Virginia is home to two Division-I universities: my current school, Old Dominion, and MEAC member Norfolk State. The schools are separated by a five-mile drive through downtown on a single street (State Route 337), if you don't accidentally get stuck in a left-turn lane along the way like I did. After winding through an unfamiliar neighborhood, I found the main gate of the university and was met with a quizzical look by the security guard. I have to imagine I was the first person with a New Jersey license plate he had encountered asking for directions to the basketball parking lot. After driving across campus under the football stadium, I arrived at Echols Hall and pulled into a parking spot directly in front of the building about 20 minutes until tip. After searching the arena for the box office, which happened to be in a separate building across a different parking lot, I paid for my general admission ticket (the first college basketball ticket I had personally paid for) and entered the arena.
Echols Hall is set up with a lower level of foldaway seats, a middle level of reserved box seats and an upper level with a few rows of box seats and wooden bleachers. I sat down in the first row of the upper level and took in the last few minutes of warm-ups.
On this night, Norfolk State was playing LIU-Brooklyn in the return game of a home and home. Eight players on Norfolk State's roster are from the New York City area, which most likely was the impetus for scheduling the series.
As it moved closer to tip-off with an odd mix of hip-hop and Motown playing over the PA system, I realized that we were in for a light crowd. I didn't know it at the time but Norfolk State was already out for winter break, meaning there would be no student section, cheerleaders and most surprisingly for a MEAC game, no band. The National Anthem was played on an acoustic guitar by one of the university's music professors, which was definitively a personal first.
As the game started, I looked around and realized I was the only college-aged person in the arena who wasn't either playing in the game or working as an usher. LIU started on a 5-0 run, and they held the lead until the under-eight media timeout where the score tied at 15. Coming out of the timeout, MEAC preseason player of the year Kyle O'Quinn decided to go on a run, scoring nine out of the next 11 Norfolk State points while collecting two blocks and five rebounds. Norfolk State took a 35-24 lead into halftime.
The halftime entertainment was a ceremony recognizing employees of the university who had 20 years of service or more. There would be no HMO-sponsored oversized clothes relay race here or auto insurance-promoting highlight package tonight.
The second half started with Norfolk State maintaining their comfortable lead, a trend that continued until the under-twelve media timeout. However, in the next 2:40, LIU went on an 11-0 run, punctuated by a Julian Boyd dunk to cut the lead to a single point at 49-48 with nine minutes to play. However, on the next possession Norfolk State's Quasim Pugh converted a traditional three-point play which was the first step of rebuilding a lead that the home team would not relinquish. LIU kept it at a one-possession game until a technical foul was called on the LIU bench with 6:12 to play that took whatever wind they had left out of their sails. The Spartans made enough of their foul shots down the stretch, and the Blackbirds could only muster four points over the last two minutes to have the game end with a 73-62 score in favor of the home team.
I enjoyed this diversion from studying for an impending philosophy final and not hearing the name of the local cable company's triple-play package attached to every made three-pointer, but the light crowd meant that traffic was not going to be a problem leaving the arena and that the writings of Immanuel Kant were waiting for me on the other side of town.
at NORFOLK STATE 73, LONG ISLAND 62 12/14/2011
LONG ISLAND 5-6 (2-0) -- J. Brickman 3-8 0-1 8; C. Garner 3-11 0-0 6; J. Olasewere 3-8 6-8 12; B. Thompson 3-5 0-0 8; M. Culpo 3-9 1-1 8; J. Boyd 6-13 1-2 13; A. Mayorga 1-7 1-2 3; K. Onyechi 0-2 0-0 0; G. Martin 0-2 3-3 3; B. Hucks 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 22-65 13-19 62. NORFOLK STATE 7-4 (2-0) -- K. O'Quinn 6-9 10-12 22; P. Williams 2-5 3-4 7; C. McEachin 5-12 0-0 12; R. McCauley 3-5 2-4 8; R. Johnson 3-6 0-0 7; J. Fuentes 1-2 1-2 3; Q. Pugh 3-5 3-3 10; A. Rogers 2-6 0-0 4; M. Tamares 0-5 0-0 0; B. Wheeless 0-3 0-0 0; W. Graham 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-59 19-25 73.
Three-point goals: LIU 5-21 (A. Mayorga 0-2; M. Culpo 1-5; J. Boyd 0-2; C. Garner 0-1; B. Thompson 2-4; J. Brickman 2-6; G. Martin 0-1), NORF 4-14 (C. McEachin 2-4; M. Tamares 0-1; Q. Pugh 1-3; R. Johnson 1-3; P. Williams 0-2; W. Graham 0-1); Rebounds: LIU 34 (J. Boyd 9), NORF 34 (K. O'Quinn 14); Assists: LIU 7 (J. Brickman 6), NORF 10 (K. O'Quinn 4); Total Fouls -- LIU 22, NORF 18; Fouled Out: LIU-J. Olasewere; NORF-C. McEachin.