For what will likely prove to be my final game for the 800 Games Project, I figured that I'd bring back a concept that seems to be very popular when I do my high school writing: the running diary.
It was a fun trip that I probably had no business making. Stony Brook was one (reasonably) local school I didn't get to this season, partly because of the reporting of Gary Moore, who chronicled the Seawolves well enough where I felt like I knew them. When Gary was signed up for the America East final against Vermont, I figured it was all his, but unfortunately - as has happened to me a few times, sadly - his work got in the way.
I really had nothing to do Saturday, but there was a problem that I have rarely encountered this season: getting a ticket. The final was moved to the bigger Stony Brook Arena, which seats about 4,000, but did you know Stony Brook has 25,000 students? Yikes. I made a couple of phone calls to Vermont (telling them my uncle used to be a season ticket holder and my cousin played baseball there, both true) and Stony Brook. Nada.
But my sister, who I can always count on for being supportive of my crazy projects, came through with two tickets she found on Craigslist, of all places. Someone had two extras, and they were ours for slightly above what he paid for them.
4:58 - The alarm goes off. Yes, that's a.m. I'm really not sure why I set my alarm for 4:58 and not 5:00, but that's how I roll. Anyway, it's early. The intent is to get a workout in, but it's not gonna happen, I end up getting stuck checking out things from Friday night on the Internet. Soon it's...
5:30 - Shower and pack for the day. Why so early? Here are the directions for the trip. See the problem? My Toyota is steady and has put up with blizzards, floods, and locusts (well, maybe not locusts), but getting across Long Island Sound would probably be a little too tough. You could drive through New York City and around, but unless you have to, you really, really don't want to do that. So this trip involves grabbing the ferry from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson, which spits you out five miles from Stony Brook. That should be easier and more cost effective, but we have to take the 7:30 ferry and why I'm up so early.
6:00 - Leave New Haven to pick up my sister in nearby West Haven.
6:20 - My sister is running slightly late, but we're off to Bridgeport.
6:45 - With no one on the road, we make good time, park for the ferry, and the shuttle (a van) takes us right over. Leaving early has its privileges, it's empty.
7:00 - Slowly, but surely, people start making their way in, a few of them wearing the green and gold of Vermont. Stands to reason that if you're driving from Burlington, some five hours to the north, you'd also be on this ferry, and Vermont does travel well.
7:25 - As we go out to the ferry, we are only about one hundred yards from Webster Bank Arena (home of Fairfield) and the Evil Black Curtain. I hear he's mad at me. Too bad.
7:30 - It's a chilly day, but I don't get out on the high seas much (this is my first time on this particular ferry), so I walk out to the roof and check out the sights. It's beautiful with the sun rising over the shoreline. Definitely beats driving through New York.
8:00 - I meet the father of a former student, whose daughter happens to be a women's soccer player for Stony Brook. He's headed to the game, which solves one of our dilemmas, how we're traversing the five miles from Port Jeff to Stony Brook. It is possible (but more expensive) to put your car on the ferry, and he has his truck to help with his daughter's tailgate (tough with the 11 a.m. ESPN2 start).
8:45 - The ferry arrives in Port Jeff, we hop on the back of the truck. The truck in front of us is from Vermont, and -- as if we needed proof -- still has snow on it. It hasn't snowed in Connecticut (or Long Island) in weeks.
9:00 - Quick breakfast at a fantastic bagel shop. Alas, I searched on Google and can't remember which one it is, so I can't give them credit. But you know who you are. Crappy marketing, I know.
9:30 - Arrival at Stony Brook. Other than a few students, it's pretty dead. Again, I'm shocked at how big this school is. Well, you learn something new every day.
9:45 - While the tailgate goes on, we go to find our tickets, and the transaction goes smoothly, as in no cops or FBI agents come running out of the woods to take us away. We'll be sitting next to him, which is nice, although I hope he didn't expect us to be raving Stony Brook lunatics (I clandestinely have a Vermont baseball shirt my cousin gave me underneath my sweatshirt. Shhhh. It's our secret.)
10:00 - We make our way into the sold-out Stony Brook Arena, which -- in full disclosure mode -- has seen better days. Which is probably why they've been trying to gut it for five years, only to have a lack of state funding get in the way. In fact, Stony Brook has played next door all season in Pritchard Gym, but it seems as if by the 2013-14 season, everything will be ready.
10:30 - A lap around the arena shows not as much green and gold as I would have thought, and that's not a knock on Vermont, but a credit to Stony Brook. This place is mobbed, and most are wearing red. The acoustics are dreadful (you can't even hear the PA announcer), and the one old-school scoreboard doesn't even have a place for time outs (and you can't really see it from our seats), but this place is rocking, and tipoff is still a long ways away.
11:00 - If America East wanted an atmosphere for ESPN2, they've got it. Probably as loud an arena I've been in all year.
11:07 - Al Rapier scores in the post and gives Stony Brook a 2-0 lead. They're 1-for-1 from the field.
11:15 - Ben Crenca works hard on the offensive glass and his two free throws put the Catamounts up 9-4. My sister comments that "he looks like he should be playing for Vermont," referring to his 6-foot-10 thick frame and scruffy beard. Sadly, that makes a lot of sense.
11:27 - Four McGlynn hits a ridiculous #superhoop running to his left to put Vermont up 20-9. Somehow, the ball sticks against where the backboard and rim meet and drops in. Someone says, "that's the new ball for you." I need to find that ball. The Seawolves are Antarctic cold. Four McGlynn is Patrick McGlynn IV, hence Four. Strange, but with the explanation, makes a little more sense.
11:43 - Dallis Joyner hits a tough shot in the paint as Stony Brook crawls within 26-19, and it stays that way at the half. The general consensus is they're lucky to be down seven at the break. Fine road effort from the Catamounts.
12:03 - Sandro Carissimo hits a #superhoop, followed by a Luke Apfeld layup off a feed from Brian Voelkel. Voelkel's line at this point: zero points, six rebounds, five assists. The guy's amazing. A 6-foot-5 two-guard who can't shoot, but is somehow the best player on the floor.
12:04 - Time out Stony Brook, down 31-19 with 17:35 left. Steve Pikiell lights into his team, but more in an imploring manner than an angry manner. For the final time this season, I use the 30-second timeout stretched to a full, I use the opportunity to hit the facilities, which are right next to Pritchard Gym.
12:07 - The Seawolves respond, but McGlynn hits a massive three-pointer from 25 feet out to push the lead back to 12.
12:27 - With the shot clock running down, Voelkel takes his only shot of the game, and drains a #superhoop from straight away, only his fifth three-pointer of the season. Sometimes it's your day. 46-29 Vermont with 9:53 to go. A week after a insinuated he made a dirty play in a tweet against Hartford, I love this guy. (Side note: right after I sent the tweet, I met some parents of kids I used to have at summer camp. I asked what the hell they were doing there. They said Voelkel was their nephew. Ah, karma police, they never fail.) The Seawolves and their crowd down for the count.
12:36 - But not out. Dave Coley makes it five straight points with a #yeoldesuperhoop to bring Stony Brook within 47-41, a 12-1 run (or jaunt in this game). Still 5:20 to go, and the crowd is alive and well, thank you.
12:49 - I'm pretty sure the baskets are the same diameter here at Stony Brook Arena, but neither team can make a shot (in fact, Coley's layup would be the last field goal of the game, which is ridiculous). Still, Brian Dougher is fouled shooting a three-pointer and makes two, it's 47-43 with exactly 1:00 left.
12:50 - Coley gets a steal, but Stony Brook can't convert quickly, Pikiell has his defensive team on the floor, and has to burn his last time out.
12:53 - Stony Brook continues to battle, but Coley misses two shots, Dougher misses another, and it's all over but the celebrating for Vermont.
12:55 - Voelkel, who would finish with five points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in a virtuoso performance, hits two free throws. Vermont didn't have a field goal in the final 10 minutes. Didn't matter.
12:57 - Catamounts win, 51-43. Let the celebration begin: the Vermont fans who made the long journey rush the court, and the Stony Brook fans are left to watch in sadness. They'll at least be headed to the NIT, but that's not much consolation at this point.
1:00 - Our journey home begins. There is a ferry at 1:30 and one at 3, but we don't have a ride for the time being. We ask a security guard if there is a taxi nearby (there are 4,000 people at this game), but he looks at us like we asked for a hovercar.
1:05 -The train is nearby, so we run to the train station, but the next one going in the direction we want to go isn't coming until 1:41. We look at the traffic getting out, and decide 1:30 is not happening. Such is life, we get to wander around the campus for a little bit. Too big for my tastes, but what do I know?
1:47 - The on time 1:41 train to Port Jefferson shows up. It's only 10 minutes, but drops us of a mile or so from the ferry.
1:58 - It's a nice walk, though, downhill, to the water. As you get closer to the ocean, the shops get nicer, and we stop for some quick ice cream.
2:30 - As we start to head to the ferry, we see two Vermont buses camped out in the parking lot and some pep band members sitting outside them. Strange. Do buses fit on the ferry? We're told that they do. Wow, that's a long ride home. But such is life for pep bands and cheerleaders, I guess.
2:55 - Safely on the much more crowded ferry, we get a seat next to the TV, where the ACC semifinal between North Carolina and NC State is finishing up. Amidst the dance team and band, a roar goes up, and suddenly everyone is standing and cheering. The Vermont team is on the ferry! The Mid-Majority doesn't need no stinking planes, we take ships and buses, dammit.
3:00 - Apfeld looks at North Carolina hold off NC State and mutters, "We can take them." (27 hours later, Vermont draws UNC -- if they can beat Lamar in a play-in game.)
3:10 - After they hit the food stand on the ship, most of the team makes their way to the "Cocktail Lounge," where at least they can get some peace and quiet, but a few stay out with their fans. I could be completely wrong, but you get the feeling that at a lot of schools the pep band doesn't associate too much socially with the basketball players. But, on the ferry for 75 minutes or so after clinching an NCAA Tournament berth, why not?
4:00 - We see our ride to Stony Brook, who eventually made his way to this ferry, his expert analysis: "Stony Brook just couldn't make a shot", which is pretty good. Take note, CBS guys. With the second ACC semifinal (Florida State-Duke) starting, the drummer in the band comes over to watch. He's excited to be headed wherever Vermont is, but is worried that his classwork is going to take a hit. The pep band doesn't have the same academic advisors that travel full-time for their athletes, they kind of have to make due. I try to explain to him that he might have to be in a game in Dayton, too, on Tuesday, but he doesn't quite understand, so eventually I just drop it. (It turned out to be Wednesday, and a win puts them Friday in Greensboro. He'll get by, believe me, you'll remember this a lot more than anything they're going to teach you this week, man.)
4:05 - The drummer also tells us that they got caught in horrific traffic in Connecticut on Friday (I could have told them that) and they got there a lot later than they planned last night. Luckily, the team had traveled the day before, but they still had the long bus ride.
4:20 - The ferry reaches Bridgeport, the Vermont folks retreat back to their buses and get ready for the five-hour drive back to Burlington. So, for those scoring at home, the Catamounts left the Stony Brook gym about 2 p.m. and probably got home close to 10. I'm sure North Carolina travels like this, too.
4:25 - As we wait for the gates to open, I notice a familiar face standing behind me, Vermont coach John Becker. Becker is the anti-Jimmy Patsos, which is ironic, because those were the winners of the two conference finals I attended. Becker is mild-mannered on the sidelines, which served him well as coach of Gallaudet from 1994-99. Yelling, which might be overrated anyway, certainly wasn't going to do much good at a school for the deaf. Presumably because of a recruiting trip, he was not accompanying his team the rest of the way. He chatted with a coach that had made his way on the ferry to the game, and walked out with the rest of us.
4:27 - As we're leaving, we see Becker fumbling with his things by himself at a table. Finally, he takes his cell phone out and makes a call as the buses go by and wave. A minute goes by, maybe two, and Becker stands, looks at his watch, and waits. Whoever was supposed to pick him up is evidently late, and so the coach who had gone from a $10,000-per-year assistant to a head coach in the NCAA Tournament in a few years stood and stared into his phone. Fitting that in one of my last moments of the Mid-Majority season, I get a scene that is quintessentially Mid-Majority. Hopefully someone picked him up eventually.
4:44 - Traffic wasn't too bad getting out, so I drop off my sister and thank her for making the journey. "Great time," she says. "Go Vermont!"
4:58 - I reach home, exactly 12 hours after rising. As I come in the door and put my keys down, my eyes shift to a pile of small papers on a desk. They're ticket stubs, but they're also stories: of places I've been, strange and interesting things I've seen, journeys I've taken. Some of the stories have not necessarily made it into this site, but they'll stick with me for a long time. And I surely have to thank you guys for reading my drivel.
5:00 - I turned on the TV, and was drawn to Lamar and McNeese State playing for the Southland Conference title. A year ago, I would have gone right to Florida State and Duke. I didn't know what I was missing.
VERMONT 51, at STONY BROOK 43 03/10/2012
VERMONT 23-11 (13-3) -- B. Voelkel 1-1 2-2 5; S. Carissimo 3-10 1-3 8; F. McGlynn 5-11 0-0 14; M. Glass 3-10 0-0 7; B. Bald 1-4 1-2 3; L. Apfeld 1-2 0-0 2; C. Rugg 3-3 0-1 6; P. Bergmann 0-0 0-0 0; B. Crenca 1-2 3-3 5; J. Elbaum 0-0 1-2 1; C. Santo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-43 8-13 51. STONY BROOK 22-9 (14-2) -- D. Joyner 2-2 0-0 4; D. Coley 4-16 1-1 10; T. Brenton 1-5 2-2 4; B. Dougher 2-12 2-3 8; A. Rapier 5-10 0-0 10; M. Rouse 2-6 0-0 5; A. Jackson 0-1 0-0 0; L. Hayes 0-2 0-0 0; D. Carter 0-0 0-0 0; R. Bracey 1-4 0-0 2; E. McAlister 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-58 5-6 43.
Three-point goals: UVM 7-15 (M. Glass 1-5; S. Carissimo 1-2; B. Voelkel 1-1; F. McGlynn 4-7), SB 4-19 (B. Dougher 2-8; M. Rouse 1-2; L. Hayes 0-2; A. Jackson 0-1; D. Coley 1-5; R. Bracey 0-1); Rebounds: UVM 31 (B. Voelkel 15), SB 32 (T. Brenton 7); Assists: UVM 13 (B. Voelkel 7), SB 6 (T. Brenton 4); Total Fouls -- UVM 11, SB 14; Fouled Out: UVM-None; SB-B. Dougher.