"Beware the barrenness of a busy life." - Socrates
NEW YORK- Somewhere outside the Prada store on 5th Avenue and 59th Street, it hit me.
Call it a mini-epiphany.
I was running, attempting to race to a train I was late for, or at least one I thought I was going to miss.
But in front of me, all I saw was humanity, a sea of people who didn't seem to care that they were in my way. Some were staring into a store window, others were protesting by shouting at the people staring into said store window, telling them the evils of fur among other epithets. Others were nearby asking for spare change, surely hoping that anyone who could afford anything in the Prada store could do without a dime or even a quarter.
And after I almost inadvertently trampled one of those folk while trying to extricate myself from the wide-eyed mob, I took about three more steps and stopped.
The ambitious plan was to see three games in New York City Saturday, and - despite some minor hiccups - things were moving along according to the script. I got out of the NJIT-St. John's game
quickly at the final buzzer, jogged down to catch the F train at 179 St., and was on my way to transfer to the Q to get in the vicinity of Long Island University
for its game with Lafayette at 4:30. At the final buzzer, I would grab the 3 train, connect to the 1 and hopefully be uptown at Columbia's Levien Gym by 7 p.m. for tip-off against Mike Muscala and Bucknell.
However, you know, best laid plans gone awry, etc.. Actually, the plans were laid pretty well, but not executed (as so many coaches in Our Game can attest to on a daily basis). I didn't know exactly where the connection to the Q train came, and underground in a subway, I wasn't getting any help from my I-phone. So, of course, I went past the stop, scrambling by hopping off at the next one to get back to the a Brooklyn-bound train and ending up at the corner of 59th and 5th with several thousands of other people who may or may not watch a college
basketball game this season, but certainly weren't on Saturday.
Back in the middle of the crowd, I tried to keep my virtue by apologizing and giving the man I whacked 50 cents. And, shockingly, I looked around. Why was I in such a hurry? Yes, I want to win the Mid-Majority game (do we have a better name for it yet?), but it shouldn't come at the expense of enjoying what I was doing. I looked down at my miserable, disoriented, pissed off self, and shook my head.
"Fuck this", I said to no one in particular.
The Columbia-Bucknell game was the first game all year I had bought a ticket in advance for, which means I was extremely excited to take it in. And I take pride in seeing an entire contest, getting a feel for what's going on, and you really can't do that if you don't see the opening tip, and preferably a little bit of the warm-up, too. (That's just my personal philosophy, not here to judge anyone else here.)
So Lafayette-LIU wasn't going to happen for me. And that was OK. It was 4:30, I was in Manhattan, and I had now had a couple of hours to kill. Could be a lot worse, couldn't it? I waltzed down to 29th Street, and popped into Cavallo's Pizzeria, had dinner, and then peacefully (well, as peacefully as you can in the NYC subway system) took the 1 train to 116th St. and Columbia University. I was even able to tour the obviously urban campus including a nice place to rest on top of Broadway.
Levien Gym was advertised to be sold-out for the game against Mike Muscala (listed as Matt on the roster Columbia handed out, which duped me into a Tweet that called him that) and the Bison, but there were plenty of empty seats as tip-off approached. I was shocked to see so much orange in the crowd, the people around me said that there are a decent amount of Bucknell alumni in the City, and this was a chance to see them. That, and the success they've had in the Patriot League (and beyond in 2005 and 2006, upsetting Kansas
and beating Arkansas, respectively) the last decade or so.
I even saw people I knew, I once coached senior forward Brian Fitzpatrick's sister in soccer, which led to the inevitable question from the parents that I've become semi-adept at answering: "What the heck are you doing here?"
Well, maybe not that adept.
Anyway, the first thing I noticed about Muscala was the socks. Leotards, I called them, as they went all the way up past has 6-foot-11 size knees. He'd better be good to wear socks like that. I found it curious in seeing Lehigh and C.J. McCollum last week that McCollum could be on his way to four straight Patriot League Player of the Year awards
, but Muscala edged him out two years ago after McCollum had won his freshman year. McCollum's stats didn't deteriorate appreciably, so I thought that somewhat odd, even though I knew Muscala was a great player, obviously.
But to start
the game, Muscala was not only mediocre, but he was getting abused by Columbia senior center Mark Cisco. Muscala's first bucket put the Bison up 2-0 and they quickly led 6-2, but Cisco and the Lions would score the next 21 points against favored Bucknell, who went nearly 10 minutes without scoring. Needless to say, down 23-6, the visiting fans that comprised nearly half the crowd was stunned into silence.
Levien Gym is one of those classic Mid-majority facilities that everyone in the Ivy League seems to have. And when it's full (or nearly full) like it was Saturday night, you get a proper college basketball atmosphere that I haven't seen much in the early season. For Columbia coach Kyle Smith, now in his third year, it's an atmosphere he hopes to make a fixture in Manhattan (the only Division I school that resides on the island).
In a seemingly weak Ivy League, Columbia hopes to post at least a winning conference record for the first time since 1992-93 (how many teams have changed conferences since then? For that matter, how many new conferences have been formed since then, for crying out loud?). The Lions can dream of the Big Dance, they last graced the NCAA Tournament back in 1968.
Bucknell and Muscala were about to rain on Saturday's party, though. He was all over the stat sheet as the lead was cut to 32-25 by halftime, and of course, it was his jumper (a part of his game that eventually could elevate him to NBA status) that gave Bucknell its first lead since the opening minutes, 47-46 with 6:56 left. Muscala was also dominant at the other end, the Lions couldn't get anywhere near the paint, and certainly weren't getting any rebounds. The Bucknell crowd got louder and louder (and surprisingly, a little rowdy and vulgar), Columbia got colder and colder, and Smith could just eventually take a seat and put his head in his hands, as his team made only 7-of-30 field goal attempts (5-of-22 on two-point shots) in the second half as Bucknell moved to 6-1 with hard-fought 65-57 victory.
Muscala's final line of 29 points and 19 rebounds (he even hit a #superhoop) was amazing considering his start. It's sometimes harder to quantify the impact a "big man" has on the game as opposed to a "little man". Comparing Muscala to McCollum is nearly impossible because they really don't play the same game. All I know is that the two (or likely three) games between Bucknell and Lehigh in the Patriot League have the potential to be legendary in Mid-majority circles.
As happens at the close
of a game with an atmosphere, the air slowly came out of the building, as the screaming dimmed to murmuring which went to a whisper. Without a big-time television broadcast, the game went quickly, and I had visions of catching the 9:34 train back to New Haven. But Levien Gym is on the second floor and the entrance (and therefore most of the campus) is two levels above.
I followed the band out, but they went a different way that spit me onto the other side of campus, meaning I had to walk the diameter of it to get back to the subway stop. As I reached Grand Central Station, the 9:34 train was just pulling away.
On another day, I would have pouted, cursed my luck, and wondered what I could have done with an hour of my life wasted until the next train arrived.
Instead, I went back out onto the street, and went to a local bar to watch some college hoops for a little while.
It was anything but barren. BUCKNELL 65, COLUMBIA 57
BUCKNELL 7-1 (0-0) -- C. Ayers 3-11 2-2 8; M. Muscala 10-17 8-10 29; B. Johnson 3-11 0-0 8; R. Frazier 1-4 0-2 2; J. Willman 6-13 1-2 13; D. Hoffman 1-3 0-2 2; R. Hill 1-3 1-2 3; S. Kaspar 0-1 0-0 0; B. Fitzpatrick 0-0 0-0 0; J. Singleton 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-63 12-20 65.
COLUMBIA 4-4 (0-0) -- B. Barbour 5-15 7-7 19; A. Rosenberg 5-12 4-4 15; C. Osetkowski 2-4 2-2 6; G. Mullins 1-6 0-0 2; S. Frankoski 1-3 0-0 3; M. Lo 0-3 2-2 2; M. Cisco 5-11 0-0 10; J. Daniels 0-3 0-0 0; Z. En'Wezoh 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-57 15-15 57.
Three-point goals: BUCK 3-12 (B. Johnson 2-6; M. Muscula 1-2; C. Ayers 0-3; R. Frazier 0-1), COLU 4-16 (B. Barbour 2-4; S. Frankoski 1-2; A. Rosenberg 1-4; C. Osetkowski 0-1; M. Lo 0-3; G. Mullins 0-2); Rebounds: BUCK 39 (M. Muscula 19), COLU 33 (M. Cisco 7); Assists: BUCK 8 (B. Johnson 3), COLU 9 (S. Frankoski 3); Total Fouls -- BUCK 15, COLU 21; Fouled Out: BUCK-None; COLU-M. Cisco.