So I've been playing a lot of Skyrim lately. For the uninitiated, Skyrim is a video game that allows the player to take the role of an adventurer who becomes the savior of the virtual world. Although that plot point may seem a bit derivative, Skyrim's strength lies in the game's truly immersive nature -- when you turn on your game console, you become a part of another world. I could navigate the path from my house to the town blacksmith in my sleep. I know what table in what inn my connection to the Thieves' Guild likes to frequent, and that I can usually find him there in the late evening. It's not a stretch to imagine that the game world continues on without me, regardless of whether or not I'm playing.
In the same way, going to small schools with tiny gyms feels like I'm in a totally different world, a world with basketball at the center. Today's trip to Niagara University, just north of Niagara Falls, felt like I was stepping into that entirely different world. The Gallagher Center is little more than a glorified gym, seating 2,400 on what must be an especially packed day. Trophy cases in the hallway laud the accomplishments of a program whose history and tradition extends very little beyond Buffalo. Yellowed newspaper clippings sit framed on the wall, extolling a monumental upset long since forgotten. To see that Niagara is more than just "that MAAC school that was in the play-in game a few years ago" is like stepping into that new world for the first time and seeing that it's teeming with life. In the same way that I can navigate to the blacksmith in my sleep, fans navigate to the seats in the general admission bleachers they occupy every single game, regardless of whether I'm there to see them or not.
My girlfriend and I primarily came to see the road team, the 2011 MAAC Tournament Champion Saint Peter's Peacocks. An avid "I'll complete my bracket based upon how cool the mascot is" fan, my girlfriend first became aware of the Peacocks last March and has been dying to see them play ever since. We found the trip to Niagara to be the perfect weekend opportunity, so we jumped on it. As two of approximately four fans pulling for the Peacocks, it was strange to hear our voices rattle around the gym unaided by fellow Saint Peter's supporters. Of the 600 or so in attendance, we were woefully outnumbered. To make matters worse, the Peacocks didn't give us much to cheer about, falling behind early and never really catching up. Saint Peter's went into halftime trailing 45-31.
Like Skyrim's town inns are the central gathering point for the game's inhabitants, the underside of the Gallagher Center is the halftime destination for Niagara fans. Directly underneath the gym lies a student dining hall that is opened to hungry Purple Eagles supporters on game day, resplendent with Canadian mainstay Tim Horton's, a small convenience store, and standard cafeteria food. For the rock-bottom price of $1.19, the famished fan can enjoy a GFS special hamburger that satisfies hunger, if not the tastebuds. A large portion of the upstairs gym transported themselves to the dining hall to simply stand up and talk to the people they were with, a fun way to pass the 15 minutes. When the cashier pulled the cage on the dining area, fans knew it was time to trickle back upstairs for the second half.
The second half soldiered on with the Purple Eagles continuing to assert their dominance, handling the Peacocks on both sides of the ball. Despite our cheers, Saint Peter's never led, and Niagara cruised to an 85-73 victory that wasn't anywhere near as close as the final margin. As we left, the public address announcer invited fans to return for Niagara's next home game on the upcoming Sunday. Even though my girlfriend and I wouldn't be attending, it was satisfying to know that everyone else would be, sitting in the same seats they occupied tonight. Even though I won't be there, the world continues on. I was just lucky enough to immerse myself in it for a little while.
at NIAGARA 85, SAINT PETER'S 73 01/13/2012
SAINT PETER'S 3-14 (2-4) -- D. Wade 3-3 3-4 11; L. Fulton 6-19 0-1 17; C. Burke 3-5 1-2 8; C. Prescott 6-15 5-6 22; D. Conley 1-3 2-2 4; B. Ffrench 0-2 0-0 0; M. Tucker 5-8 2-2 12; Y. Raymond 1-2 2-5 4; B. Hall 0-0 4-4 4; K. Ferguson 0-1 1-2 1; T. DeChalus 0-0 0-0 0; M. Farih 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 22-55 18-26 73. NIAGARA 7-11 (2-4) -- A. Mason 7-18 3-5 19; J. Green 4-9 11-11 20; A. Tanksley 3-7 0-0 7; M. Jordan 5-9 4-5 18; S. Gillette 2-3 1-2 5; M. Lemmons 2-4 1-2 6; J. Thomas 1-2 0-0 2; J. Turner 3-4 0-0 8; A. Langford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-56 20-25 85.
Three-point goals: SPC 11-24 (C. Prescott 5-10; C. Burke 1-1; L. Fulton 5-13), NIAG 11-24 (M. Jordan 4-8; M. Lemmons 1-3; A. Mason 2-6; J. Green 1-2; A. Tanksley 1-2; J. Turner 2-3); Rebounds: SPC 37 (D. Conley 10), NIAG 28 (J. Thomas 8); Assists: SPC 18 (B. Ffrench 4), NIAG 16 (A. Mason 4); Total Fouls -- SPC 16, NIAG 23; Fouled Out: SPC-None; NIAG-S. Gillette.