FAIRFIELD, Conn. - The plan was simple enough Saturday, in fact it gave me a couple of hours to wander around Boston. The Harvard-Dartmouth game was at 2 p.m., Northeastern was playing George Mason at 7. I knew Harvard well enough to find a decent parking spot, knew the T (subway) well enough to get from place to place, it was fairly routine compared to some of the things I'd tried and still have planned.
But just before going to bed Friday, I noticed they changed the time of the Northeastern game to 8 p.m. Well, that meant a late night, but on the plus side, it was another hour to see Boston.
As I turned away from the computer screen, I caught the date again, "Jan. 27". Wait a minute, that wasn't Saturday, that was
. At some point, probably long ago, there was a switch and I had never noticed.
good team basketball is not about dwelling on the mistakes you've made. It's about overcoming and adapting and fighting through adversity.
I briefly looked at staying over and possibly hitting the UMass game at 2 p.m. and coming back to Northeastern, but that would mean I would get home well after midnight with school the next day and Amherst is a good two hours from Boston anyway. And, quite bluntly, I didn't have the cash to stay over near Boston for a night.
I could have gone to Albany, but that was three hours away and I was supposed to be there three days later anyway. And God knows what time I would have gotten home from there.
There was only one game that fit. Kind of. Sacred Heart had moved its game to 7 p.m. against Monmouth. It meant that I would be in the same gym twice in three days, which I hate, but it was a team that was entertaining to watch.
The other problem was, making it for tip-off and therefore breaking my streak was no gimme. My GPS told me it was just short of three hours from Harvard to Sacred Heart, and who knows with traffic. As you probably already know, exacerbating the problem was an unexpected overtime between Harvard and Dartmouth
Fortunately, I knew my way around the Harvard athletic facilities a little, having covered the Boston Breakers of Women's Professional Soccer for a couple of seasons there (yes, I even got to interview Alex Morgan once). As soon as the final buzzer sounded at Harvard (as you can tell by the poorly angled scoreboard picture in that recap), I sprinted to my car, looked at my watch (which read 4:30 on the dot), and paraphrased the Blues Brothers
It's 150 miles to Fairfield. I've almost got a full tank of gas. I have a can of Mountain Dew. It's freezing, and I'm not wearing a coat (I happened to be sitting right next to the heater on the roof of Levietes Pavilion, so it was quite warm, especially when the crowd got going).
I made it with five minutes to spare. And didn't get a speeding ticket, either, thanks for asking, even though I saw my share of Massachusetts and Connecticut state troopers along the way.
__I've talked about Fate a couple of times this season
, and maybe this was another case of Fate bringing me somewhere. Sacred Heart was likely go little noticed by the national media unless they find a way to win the NEC, but their last three weeks of conference play have been rather remarkable with the injuries they have had to deal with.
I wouldn't say I was shocked, but pleasantly surprised to see a very good crowd at the Pitt Center, one side and the student section almost full. Attendance was announced at 1,614, which may not be much in your neck of the woods, but it was about double the previous season-high, and the Pioneers had hosted C.J. McCollum and Lehigh earlier in the season
(Side note: As someone who grew up as a North Carolina fan, it was tough to root against a Monmouth squad that not only had King Rice a head coach, but Brian Reese and Derrick Phelps as assistants, but here we were.)
It looked for much of the first half like either the pressure - literally - might be catching up to Sacred Heart. Instead of playing off point guard Phil Gaetano like others have done, Rice's Hawks picked up all over the court. They didn't force too many turnovers, but they looked to be wearing the Pioneers out when Christian White and Dion Nesmith hit #superhoops
to give Monmouth a 33-26 lead late in the first half that largely stayed intact (40-35) into the intermission.
It's always slightly humorous to watch teams that are not used to the extra time that television takes during time outs when they finally do make it on the air somewhere. In this case, the game was on locally, and before the game, the teams completed their warm-ups, played the national anthem, announced the starting lineups, and were ready to rumble when they were told they had five minutes until TV was ready for tip-off.
So they started warming up again. I tried explaining the situation to the Sacred Heart cheerleaders, who were trying to get everyone to stand up in our section, but they didn't quite understand. More on them in a second.
After a couple of media time outs, the teams got the message that the breaks would be a little longer than they were used to, so they weren't standing around on the court for 30 seconds staring at the scorer's table waiting for the warning horn and then the ready for play buzzer 15 seconds later.
Throughout the game, I noticed a little girl with the Sacred Heart cheerleaders, she was doing a pretty good job for an inexperienced 7-year-old, she seemed to know all the moves, including the sequence when the other team committed a foul (insert cheerleader joke here).
I thought it was Dave Bike's granddaughter, but was questioned on it, so I asked. And the woman I asked happened to be their mom. The little girl was Zoe Latina, daughter of assistant coach Anthony Latina. His son, Luke, can also be seen on the bench in some games. There are probably plenty of teams that wouldn't let the kids of coaches sit on the bench or join the cheerleading squad, but there are a lot of folk who take themselves way too seriously in Our Game as well.
Sacred Heart, with Bike running the show, is not one of them.
Zoe's funniest moments came with trying her best to hold the cardboard picket fence up as the band and student section attempted to get the crowd to get the "De-fense" chant going. Eventually she got a little help from the cheerleader sitting closest to her, who apparently pulled babysitting duties for the evening, but didn't seem to mind.
She did get a quick high-five in with her dad and Dave Bike as they came out for the second half as well.
Jodi Latina, Anthony's wife, is somewhat of a local celebrity. She worked for more than a decade in local television
before leaving to help run Linda McMahon's unsuccessful Senate campaigns. To continue the Six Degrees theme, she worked with a guy named Chris Velardi at WTNH, one of my friends from college. So that's a long way of saying I probably should have known who she was.
With the gym nearly empty after the game, Zoe put down her pom-poms and picked up a basketball to shoot around with her brother, which may or may not have made her father much happier. Anyway, back to the action.
Meanwhile, back on the court, there were 18 fouls in the first eight minutes of the second half, which didn't seem to make anyone happy, and the Hawks were able to build a double-digit lead by the second media time out.
A shame, I thought, that Sacred Heart had finally been exposed and poor Shane Gibson just didn't have much help. This was supposed to be a glorious senior season for Gibson (I thought about drafting him for the Picket Fences, but couldn't pass up Nate Wolters), who averaged 22 points per game as a junior, but the loss of teammates Chris Evans and Evan Kelley to injury meant any opponent's gameplan would feature stopping Gibson first and likely second as well. He struggled to handle the pressure and was even benched early in the season and compounded that with an ankle injury. After scoring 29 points in the season opener (a win over Yale), he didn't break 20 in five straight games, being held to single digits three times in non-conference play. It looked like a sad ending to a fantastic career.
But like his team, Gibson has somehow found a way to succeed in spite of the hardship. Gibson hadn't scored less than 22 in his last six games coming into Saturday, and against Monmouth he put the Pioneers on his back, albeit in an unorthodox way. Gibson scored 19 consecutive Sacred Heart points, with 11 of them coming from the free throw line, as the officials called it tight and Gibson is nearly a 90 percent free throw shooter.
(Rice, who has already been in a decent amount of trouble
for commenting on officials this season, was not thrilled afterward, telling someone involved with Monmouth before going on the radio in the postgame, "You better say something because I obviously can't anymore.")
By the time Gibson was done, Sacred Heart had the lead. His partner in scoring Louis Montes eventually hit a #superhoop, and it was Monmouth who fell apart in the end, after leading 68-67 with 4:51 left, the Hawks never scored again, the Pioneers scoring the last 15 for another unconventional yet fulfilling 82-68 win before a near capacity crowd at the Pitt Center. Sacred Heart is tied atop the NEC with Bryant and perennial power Robert Morris.
Well played once again, Fate. Well played.
But can Fate hold out for another six weeks or so for Sacred Heart?