Over the years, I have been fortunate to go to many college basketball venues. Some, such as Webster Arena in Bridgeport, Conn., aren't conducive to college basketball games, especially when there are only 2,000 people in the stands. Others, such as Acierno Arena at the Bob Carpenter Center on the campus of the University of Delaware, truly stand out. It's not just the basketball experience that makes the Bob so enjoyable; it's the culinary experience that makes me come back there year after year.
On Saturday, I picked up my partner-in-crime Tieff and made the all too familiar drive down the New Jersey Turnpike/I-95 to Newark, Del. When we got to the Bob Carpenter Center at 2 p.m., I noticed that there were very few cars in the parking lot. Turns out what I thought was a 2 p.m. game was a 4 p.m. game being televised on the CAA Network. So we headed to a nearby McDonald's and came back to the Bob at 3 p.m.
A few years ago, when I went to my first Hofstra-Delaware game at the Bob, I learned the ways of the barbecue station. When you walk into the Bob and head up the main set of stairs to the Acierno Arena, to your right is the "Man vs. Food" experience of CAA basketball. Here lies a concessions area with a barbecue carving station. For a reasonable price, you can have your choice of one large sandwich roll or two smaller sandwich rolls filled with barbecue pork, roast turkey or roast beef along with two delicious sides.
Normally, I have the barbecue pork on the large sandwich roll, but my server persuaded me to do the two smaller sandwich rolls, so I could have two different tasty choices. I chose the barbecue pork with additional sweet sauce and the barbecue beef with gravy. They cut the beef and the turkey right there for you. Then comes the two sides. Nothing better than baked macaroni and cheese and German potato salad. Ah, heaven.
Another nice thing about this concessions area is that there are large, round tables for you to sit and eat your barbecue cuisine. Often you are sitting with other fans at the same table. I remember a couple of years ago, Tieff and I sat with a family. Their daughter was driving on I-95 to meet them there. We had noticed a lot of highway patrols that day and told the mother about that. She gave her daughter a call and advised her not to speed. Hey, anything we can do for fellow basketball fans.
I never refer to the place the Fighting Blue Hens call as home the Acierno Arena. It's always been the Bob to me and to many others. It was the home of many America East Tournaments when Delaware was part of that conference. Now it's just another one of the 12 regular-season venues in the CAA. The Fighting Blue Hens were home to the Rams of VCU in Saturday's contest. Many VCU fans made the trip up from Richmond. My row was mostly made up of Rams' fans. Have Final Four appearance, will travel.
The Blue Hens and the Rams have both got out to 3-2 records in the CAA, so the game was for a share of fourth place in the Colonial, which is important. The top four teams in the conference get first-round byes in the CAA Tournament. Since the tournament expanded to 12 teams in the 2005-06 season, no team that has not had a first-round bye has won the CAA tournament.
The game started out with VCU showing terrific ball movement on offense, but it didn't have much to show for it while struggling for the field. In the first half, VCU shot an abysmal 1-for-9 from beyond the arc and 28 percent from the field. "Big Time" Bradford Burgess was having a rough first half, shooting 1-for-7 from the field. But he hit seven of eight free throws and still had 10 points in the first 20 minutes.
Delaware's struggles were even worse. First, its offense doesn't seem to have many set plays. It really is based on Devon Saddler, the combo guard for the Blue Hens, creating plays off the dribble, whether it's a pass to Kyle Anderson, the Blue Hens long distance shooting guard, inside to Jamelle Hagins or Saddler taking a shot himself. The team didn't know how to attack VCU's zone defense and not once did a Blue Hen big man go into the middle of the zone and try to hit a jumper. Saddler had a run first half, shooting one of nine from the field.
The Blue Hens didn't score a point for nearly the first nine minutes. But thanks to the Rams' shooting woes, they were down only 8-0. Then just like that, Saddler and Anderson hit 3-pointers and it was a game at 8-6 with 10 1/2 minutes left.
Then came the play of the game. VCU's Juvonte Reddic, a 6-foot-9 sophomore forward, got the ball at the top of the key. Reddic, in a blur, flew by his man, hit a layup and was fouled. Our whole row was stunned in amazement. Tieff and I had never seen someone that size drive the lane so fast. It was incredible. Reddic hit the free throw to put VCU up 14-10.
The game was relatively close for the next several minutes. Then, with around four-and-a-half minutes left in the half, VCU went on a 9-2 spurt led by Burgess, Reddic and a technical foul called on Delaware coach Monte Ross. The Rams were up 30-19. Delaware scored four straight points to cut the deficit to 30-23 at the half.
At halftime, we made our way to the ice cream stand located behind our section. It was hard ice cream, and there were some terrific choices. I decided to have the "Twist and Scotch," butterscotch ice cream with chocolate covered pretzels. It was absolutely delicious.
The start of the second half saw Josh Brinkley go to work for the Blue Hens. Twice Brinkley scored baskets on offensive rebounds and both times he was fouled. He made both free throws and hit one of two free throws on an earlier foul to score Delaware's first seven points. Saddler followed with a layup, and Delaware had cut VCU's lead to four, 36-32, with 15:50 left in the game.
The media timeout came at the perfect time for the Rams, allowing them to regroup. VCU then went on a 12-2 spurt over the next four minutes. Treveon Graham and Briante Weber, two of the Rams' freshmen, buried 3-pointers to give VCU a 48-34 lead.
Saddler scored four of Delaware's next six points and cut the lead to eight with a little less than 10 minutes left. But it was as close as the Blue Hens would get the rest of the way. Saddler's shooting woes continued as he was 2-for-10 from the field in the second half and scored just 10 points on the day.
Meanwhile, Burgess came alive late in the second half with two 3-pointers for the Rams. When Reddic hit an emphatic dunk with two minutes left to put VCU up 65-50, all that was left was for Shaka Smart was to clear his bench. Late in the game, seldom used but highly recruited Reco McCarter tried to go for a slam with his team up 12 with 12 seconds left. Hagins let it be known that was against basketball code by trying to block the shot but making sure he fouled McCarter hard. McCarter got a statistic in the game, making one of two free throws to make the final score VCU 68, Delaware 55.
Despite shooting 4-for-14 from the field, Burgess had 18 points to lead VCU. Reddic added 11 points, nine rebounds and one everlasting memory for me. Four other Rams' players scored eight or nine points in the game. For Delaware, Brinkley (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Hagins (10 points and 14 rebounds) each had double-doubles, and Saddler had his aforementioned 10 points.
As Tieff and I made our way back to New York, it was another successful road trip. Terrific barbecue, delicious ice cream and good college basketball. Hoops and food. You can't beat it.
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 68, at DELAWARE 55 01/14/2012
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 13-5 (4-2) -- B. Burgess 4-14 7-8 18; D. Theus 3-8 2-3 8; J. Reddic 5-13 1-1 11; R. Brandenberg 3-5 1-1 8; T. Daniels 0-7 0-0 0; T. Graham 3-9 1-2 9; B. Weber 1-3 2-2 5; D. Haley 4-6 0-1 8; T. Okereafor 0-0 0-0 0; D. Hinton 0-0 0-1 0; J. Guest 0-0 0-0 0; H. Houston 0-0 0-0 0; R. McCarter 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 23-65 15-21 68. DELAWARE 7-9 (3-3) -- J. Hagins 4-11 2-2 10; D. Saddler 3-19 3-3 10; K. Anderson 2-9 0-0 5; K. Lewis 1-4 0-2 2; J. Brinkley 3-5 7-8 13; J. Threatt 1-3 4-6 7; H. McCullar 3-4 0-1 6; L. Savage 1-2 0-0 2; K. McNeil 0-0 0-0 0; S. Madarani 0-1 0-0 0; B. McNulty 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-58 16-22 55.
Three-point goals: VCU 7-23 (B. Burgess 3-8; T. Daniels 0-5; D. Theus 0-1; R. Brandenberg 1-2; B. Weber 1-2; T. Graham 2-5), DEL 3-18 (H. McCullar 0-1; S. Madarani 0-1; D. Saddler 1-5; K. Lewis 0-1; J. Threatt 1-3; K. Anderson 1-7); Rebounds: VCU 43 (T. Daniels 9), DEL 41 (J. Hagins 14); Assists: VCU 9 (D. Theus 5), DEL 4 (H. McCullar 1); Total Fouls -- VCU 22, DEL 20; Fouled Out: VCU-None; DEL-None.