Despite Connecticut being among the smallest of our nation's united states geographically, there's no easy way to get from Fairfield to New Britain, meaning it was an hour drive (I'm sure some of you in other regions of the country just cringed, sorry). Time to catch up on the audio book of Ben Franklin I had started on a couple of other hoops journeys.
Don't know what kind of college basketball fan Ben would be, but I'm sure any success Penn would have would thrill him, and I wouldn't put it past him to make an appearance or two at the Palestra.
The temperature regulators at not the best at a fairly antiquated Detrick Gym, home of the Central Connecticut Blue Devils, and when you get a big crowd like the one that showed up for the Traveling Hurley Brothers Revue and Senior Night, it gets very warm very quickly.
With that introduction, it probably wouldn't surprise you that the only concession stand sits at the entrance to the CCSU pool, which makes the food smell a little bit chlorine-like, if you know what I mean. Still, I hadn't eaten since before my team's practice early in the morning, so a soda, pizza, and pretzel it was ($7) and I headed up to the only open area I could find, in the last row behind the Wagner bench.
While I was eating, Ken Horton, defending NEC Player of the Year and Central's all-time leading scorer, received a standing ovation as he was announced by one of the best public address announcers in all the land. As you'd expect, he gave the same courtesy to every senior dance team member that he did to Horton.
It was also Robby Ptacek and David Simmons' final home game. Ptacek, in addition to leading the nation in free throw percentage is 10th on the all-time CCSU scoring list.
You throw in eight-time (eight-time!) NEC Rookie of the Week Kyle Vinales, and you can see why Central treading water in the middle of the NEC pack has been quite frustrating this season for their fans, including blowout losses like the one I saw at Quinnipiac. Much of the criticism has fallen on Horton, who has not been the juggernaut he was last season, although his numbers (18.7 ppg, 8.9 rebs) are still solid.
Anyway, the food was eaten, the trash thrown out, the section I was in filled in a little, a couple of families and other stragglers filling in the back rows.
Both teams started slowly, but just about the time Horton buried a jump shot to put the hosts up 6-0 three minutes in, a roar started at the entrance to the gym. "Let's go Wag-ner" as a bunch (a dozen?) of college aged students in (pretty nice, I must say) white Wagner jerseys stormed into our sections and stood in the couple of open rows between my section and the (more expensive) seatbacks closer to the Wagner bench.
Here's the thing: I don't mind you cheering for your team, even if you're in enemy territory. But basic public decorum needs to prevail. These jerks not only stood in front of our entire section (on the seats) blocking most of the court, they came in spitting tobacco (and spilling some of it on their nice new shirts) and had the most unoriginal chants this side of sixth-grade gym class.
And if you're going to hog seats and act like a jackass, show up early and stake out your territory, don't take mine.
The family in front of me politely asked them to sit down, they never really did answer the question. I thought about: a) picking a fight; or b) getting security, but a) my brawling days are -- unfortunately -- long gone, and b) the two closest security guards to me looked to have a combined age in their twenties.
The section around the imbeciles basically dispersed at the first media timeout, and I found an empty space in the front row behind the Wagner bench. It was much worse than it sounds, I didn't have a great angle to see much of the game.
I did have a good angle to watch Danny Hurley, though, and despite my rooting for him and his brother, his fans (most likely new money fans, too. I doubt they were around two years ago when the Seahawks were terrible; that ticks me off as well) had turned me into a Blue Devil fan for the rest of the afternoon.
Luckily for me, Central -- particularly Horton -- was a team on a mission, scoring the game's first 13 points and surviving a couple of Wagner runs to lead 35-20 at halftime.
I thought about turning to the idiots and screaming, "Real f***ing quiet now, aren't we?", but I left most of the foul language to Hurley.
This is probably proof that I watch way too much college basketball (it almost definitely is, actually), but I've come to realize that the best time to head to the bathroom is at the beginning of the second half, particularly if the game is televised. The first timeout after the half is credited as a 30-second, but stretched to a full for media purposes, meaning that often times, you get two timeouts in succession around the 16-minute mark, and therefore don't miss much of the action.
Although I'm sure you think less of me now, Hurley screwed up the system, when, angry at his team's inability to run a play - he called a time out just 38 seconds into the second half. He fooled himself, he forgot that it would be stretched into a full and kept his team standing. I stayed, too, and watched in schadenfreude-ly delight as Central turned this into an old-fashioned ass-whooping. Horton had a dunk and Ptacek had a layup in a 10-0 spurt that put the Blue Devils up a ridiculous 62-34 and led me to stare one last time in the morons' direction.
Hurley by this point has set some kind of record for substitutions, yelling "Go get him!" every time a mistake was made, and there were almost too many to count.
Eventually, Hurley went quiet, conceding defeat, but to his team's credit, they got the margin down to single digits (68-59) with two minutes remaining. But the hole was way too big, and eventually Howie Dickenman was able to sub his seniors out to a standing ovation from the rare near sell-out crowd in New Britain.
I felt good for Horton, he has been one of the most entertaining and best players in the NEC the last few seasons, and he deserved a day like this against a team that had snapped his double-digit scoring streak at 40 last month.
And you know how I felt about the Wagner jerks.
Alas, in the way our world works below the Red Line, this game will likely mean very little in the grand scheme of the campaign. As the No. 7 seed in the NEC, Central will visit -- guess who? -- second-seeded Wagner Thursday night.
You think Danny Hurley will have his gang ready?
One of the downsides of a conference that resides so far below the Red Line like the NEC is that the exploits of a guy like Horton gets missed.
So I guess it's up to people like me to ring his praises.
I tip my cap, Kenny. Thanks.
And I'll leave you with trivia: Ken Horton is one of two NEC players to ever have 1,800 points and 800 rebounds in his career.
Can you name the other? You've probably heard of him.
at CENTRAL CONNECTICUT 78, WAGNER 61 02/25/2012
WAGNER 24-5 (15-3) -- K. Ortiz 2-7 5-7 9; L. Rivers 6-13 2-2 16; T. Murray 1-7 1-2 4; J. Williams 4-9 4-4 12; C. Martin 2-4 0-0 4; M. Moody 1-3 3-6 5; J. Thompson 1-2 3-4 5; M. Burton 1-3 0-0 3; N. Folahan 0-0 0-0 0; O. Parker 1-2 1-2 3; H. Naurais 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-50 19-27 61. CENTRAL CONNECTICUT 13-15 (10-8) -- K. Horton 7-12 6-6 22; R. Ptacek 7-15 2-2 16; D. Simmons 5-7 0-0 10; K. Vinales 4-10 13-14 21; M. McMillan 1-1 0-0 2; D. Speech 1-1 0-0 3; A. Burbage 0-0 2-2 2; T. Allen 0-0 0-0 0; J. Efese 1-1 0-0 2; M. LaPorte 0-0 0-0 0; S. Mickell 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-47 23-24 78.
Three-point goals: WAG 4-16 (C. Martin 0-2; T. Murray 1-4; J. Thompson 0-1; L. Rivers 2-4; M. Burton 1-2; J. Williams 0-3), CCT 3-8 (K. Horton 2-6; R. Ptacek 0-1; D. Speech 1-1); Rebounds: WAG 21 (O. Parker 5), CCT 28 (D. Simmons 8); Assists: WAG 9 (K. Ortiz 5), CCT 17 (M. McMillan 4); Total Fouls -- WAG 21, CCT 24; Fouled Out: WAG-None; CCT-M. McMillan.