(To anyone reading this from my place of employment, I swear this is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.)(Or if there are any relatives of Cambodian Khmer warriors out there, I agree to this as well.)
Game #9-274: Maine Black Bears at Hartford HawksJanuary 9, 2013 12:00 pm
The Sports Center
WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - I felt slightly ill for a couple of days leading up to Wednesday, but when I woke up Wednesday morning, there was nothing slightly about it.
I generally hate taking sick days, but this year's flu seemed like nothing to mess around with and I was scheduled to work only half the day to handle some personal business
that couldn't wait.
It would appear that basketball would be out for the day as well, my original schedule had me headed to Duquesne-Fordham in the Bronx Wednesday night, but I definitely wasn't up to that. But there was an apparent quirk in the day's agenda, Hartford was playing Maine at noon? On a Wednesday? It wasn't a holiday, as far as I could tell. A quick check of websites confirmed it.
I felt slightly better, I could sit in a chair for two hours and watch a college
basketball game, no? So equipped just with these:
off I went. After all, how many people were going to be at a Hartford game on a Wednesday at noon?
Dumb question, which was quickly answered when a cadre of school buses preceded me into the Chase Athletic Center parking lot. So that's how it was going to be. It wasn't going to be very quiet, was it?
Sensing that the couple of thousand kids who had participated in a fairly ingenious plan by Hartford would be sitting behind the basket where I usually drop anchor, I splurged for a slightly more expensive ticket and ended up in the second row at center court. Hmmm.
With 20 minutes until tipoff, I internally debated whether the plan was imaginative or just childish, if you'll excuse the pun. Should Our Game really need gimmicks to get a crowd to show up like a minor league baseball team? Did a bunch of shrieking teenagers who didn't have any kind of vested interest in Hartford basketball really count as a crowd?
In Hartford's defense, the students were not back in session yet, meaning no one (including the players) had to get out of class, but the whole thing still felt more than a little artificial.
Alas, those questions became somewhat moot - as they always do - once tip-off approached. Lost in the shenanigans was that the winner
of this game would be atop America East, both teams came in with a 2-0 conference record, and although neither had played conference favorites Stony Brook or Vermont, it would still be something to be proud of. After all, the last time either of these teams had been to the NCAA Tournament? How about never.
I mentioned Hartford's affinity for the #superhoop
in previous recaps, and they weren't going to change here, Wes Cole and Yolonzo Moore hitting early ones to give the Hawks a 15-5 lead, as both teams seemed nervous in front of the large crowd. It wasn't even so much the size of the audience, but the decibel level. If you've never been in a middle school (at least since you went there, obviously), you really can't get a feel of how piercing and loud
it can actually be. In addition, Chase Arena has some decent acoustics and can get loud under the right circumstances, as last
year's America East Tournament proved.
Hartford coach John Gallagher, who I like more and more as a tactician the more I see him, came out in a 1-3-1 zone against a fairly poor shooting Maine team, and it had them baffled, especially with 6-foot-6 Mark Nwakamma on the top wreaking havoc. Eventually, one of many foreign players on the Black Bears - Jon Mesghna - found his range in the corner, and his second #superhoop
tied the game. However, a late Hartford run, capped by another Cole three-pointer (Hartford's eighth of the first half) gave the Hawks a 34-27 lead at the break.
Under the circumstances, I wasn't leaving my seat, and the people at Hartford appeased the youngsters by playing some teen songs on the video board. It might have appeared to the uninitiated that Gallagher got the loudest ovation from the teen girls in the stands, except that his emergence from the locker room happened to coincide with the beginning of a One Direction video on the big board.
Sadly, many of the kids in the stands departed as the second half commenced, they had to get back to their respective schools before dismissal time.
It was a strange second half in that Maine was always within six points (and as close as one on a couple of occasions), but could never quite get over the top, as the Hawks never trailed in the entire contest, despite it being far from a blowout.
The guy who ran the show for Hartford was Nkawamma, an undersized sophomore post player at 6-foot-6 who seems to have developed a bit of an outside game that has made him even more dangerous in the last few weeks. (Last season, Nkawamma was 1-for-7 on #superhoops
in the entire campaign, this year he's 12-of-29 including 2-of-3 on Wednesday afternoon.)
When Nwakamma was left with one defender, he would take them. When Maine would double him, he would find the open player for a back-door layup. He also had several towering defensive rebounds at the other end, begging the age-old question in many of these situations: How does a kid from Leander, Texas (outside of Austin) end up slipping through the cracks to a school like Hartford? Gallagher surely isn't complaining. Nwakamma was pretty effective for a series on just one shoe as well before a whistle allowed him to get back to the full complement after a short delay.
Nwakamma finished with 23 points, eight assists, and seven rebounds as the Hawks are 3-0 in America East for the first time in a decade. In all Hartford was 10-of-21 on #superhoops, marking the fourth straight game they've hit 10 or more from behind the arc.
I usually like to hang around and check out the sights, but getting back to bed ASAP was the top priority on this day. To get there, I had to wait behind several school buses that hung around to the end.
I'm still torn as to whether playing a conference game at noon on a Wednesday is a great idea. However, I'm not conflicted as to whether Mark Nkawamma is a hidden gem in America East.
There is also no doubt about whether Hall's cough drops do anything for the flu. They don't.
Live and learn.
at HARTFORD 68, MAINE 61
MAINE 7-9 (2-1) -- J. Mesghna 5-9 2-4 17; J. Edwards 3-11 11-14 17; A. Fraser 6-11 4-6 16; M. Allison 3-5 0-1 6; X. Pollard 1-10 1-2 3; T. Gloger 0-0 0-0 0; S. Lawton 0-1 2-2 2; J. McAllian 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-47 20-29 61.
HARTFORD 10-6 (3-0) -- M. Nwakamma 10-17 1-4 23; Y. Moore II 4-11 4-4 16; E. Cooper 5-6 2-4 13; J. Peterson 2-3 0-0 5; W. Cole 3-6 0-0 8; C. Wroe 0-0 3-4 3; J. Schneck 0-1 0-0 0; P. U'u 0-0 0-0 0; O. Faulk 0-0 0-0 0; N. Sikma 0-2 0-0 0; T. Dyson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-46 10-16 68.
Three-point goals: UME 5-14 (J. Edwards 0-4; X. Pollard 0-3; J. Mesghna 5-7), HART 10-21 (J. Peterson 1-2; W. Cole 2-5; M. Nwakamma 2-3; Y. Moore 4-8; N. Sikma 0-1; E. Cooper 1-2); Rebounds: UME 33 (M. Allison 10), HART 23 (M. Nwakamma 7); Assists: UME 10 (J. Edwards 7), HART 18 (M. Nwakamma 8); Total Fouls -- UME 20, HART 22; Fouled Out: UME-None; HART-None.