- Albert Schweitzer
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - As January turns into February, the games sometimes have a tendency to blend together, especially when it's a Friday night and I'm in a huge rush to make it on time.
In the pre-TMM days, Fridays were designated for my high school games (if you think I'll see a lot of games this year, remember, I had to sit through freshman, junior varsity, and varsity games at least twice a week). So this season, I moved soccer practice to Friday, because - well - I had to move it somewhere (we practice once inside in the winter).
But, with the help of an assistant coach, that meant I could leave at 6:30 once in a while, like when Fairfield was hosting Rider Friday night.
I may not be quite ready for this Last Man thing
(well, not that Last Man, I think I get Nietzeche's a little
), but I've - miraculously seemingly at times - have kept a streak of my own this season: I haven't missed a tip-off.
It's about a 20-minute ride, but the streak was in real jeopardy when a sign lit up on the Merritt Parkway: "Accident: Rte. 8 South, Delay Exits 5-2." Route 8 runs right into Webster Bank Arena at Long Island Sound on Exit 1, so this was a huge problem.
But a mile later, I quickly detoured onto Interstate 95, a little more circuitous, but hopefully traffic free
. It was, I pulled into the parking lot at about 6:55, jumped into the ticket line. However, there was a back-up because there were only three open! Really, a huge line to try to get into an empty arena? Luckily (or smartly) the empty "Rider Will-Call" line became a de facto fourth. I grabbed the ticket, made it through the fairly extensive security check, and ran up to shoot the picture above just as they tipped off.
The streak continues. But for how long?
Look, my disdain for Webster Bank Arena as a primary facility is well-known and I don't beat any animals, let alone a dead horse. I thought it was a nice gesture to bring previously anonymous car-winner John Queenan, who buried a half-court shot two weeks ago
, only to have severe doubt as to whether his toe touched the line.
In the end, everyone did the right thing, but it seemed like a little more public relations spin for all parties. And Lucas the Stag (I love Lucas) made sure no one was going to get away with crossing half-court at halftime again. Alas, with almost everyone still in their seats in anticipation this time, it was an airball.
In the lobby, I actually read the rules for the Chevy giveaway. It turns out me and my mad skills are ineligible. Who knew? I'm pretty sure everyone that's looked at a ball in the last decade is. The casino
always wins, right?
(Side note: One of my most indelible memories of childhood was a minor league hockey game in New Haven when my friend's father - who had never played the game - won a gift certificate
to a nice restaurant by putting the puck through a small hole with perhaps the worst form in hockey history. After the puck went in, he lifted his stick into the air as the crowd cheered, and we yelled, "Chuck, Chuck, Chuck." Maybe you had to be there.)
Starving by now, I at knew this place had great ice cream. I turned the corner, and saw one stand open and the end of line indistinguishable from where I was standing. The Streak will face a stiff test next Saturday (if it gets that far) due to soccer commitments, so I show some foresight for once, and grab a ticket in advance.
The box office was closed. Of course it was.
There was a game Friday, and while it wouldn't decide the MAAC regular season title, it did feature two teams starting to head in opposite directions. The biggest thing to play for in the MAAC is to be in the top six seeds, as seven through 10 play in the dreaded First Round as everyone else watches, critiques, scouts, and - yes - laughs at you.
Now, my dislike for their home does not carry over to the Stags, although I'm sure their clothes probably smell when they get home at night. I had issues that I laid out here with Sydney Johnson's move from Princeton to Fairfield
(it's hard to dislike someone when you see their cute little kids at every game as well), and his teams always strike me as organized, disciplined, and usually on the same page.
After a 2-6 MAAC start, Fairfield had won two in a row. One of my favorite players in all of Mid-majority is Fairfield senior Colin Nickerson. He always seems loose and his length at the guard position makes him one of the best defenders I've seen all season. But this season he might have impressed me the most.
By the end of last season, he had moved into the starting lineup, beginning the last 13 games of the season on the floor as Fairfield nearly won the MAAC Tournament. But with the team struggling, Nickerson - now a senior - had his starting job taken away as the conference season got going. You could kind of see why from the stands. He just wasn't a real offensive threat.
Nickerson made nine superhoops last season, and three of them helped take down Iona in the MAAC semifinals as the Gaels' zone basically dared him to shoot. This season, just 4-of-16 from behind the arc, and when teams knew he wasn't an attacking threat in the half-court, he became a liability for Johnson.
(Strangely, a check of Nickerson's bio says he hit 43 superhoops in his senior year of high school. The extra couple of feet makes that much difference? I guess so.)
Granted, I have no inside access to the team, but - despite spending long periods of time on the bench - I always see Nickerson leading the cheers and being the first to high-five people during timeouts no matter how much he plays. As a coach, you pay attention to that stuff because those types of players are huge to what you want to accomplish, both on and off the court.
On this night, Nickerson again started on the bench, but after Rider jumped out to a 6-0 lead and Fairfield was having a little trouble, Johnson called on Nickerson. He had played a combined 24 minutes in his last two games, but he would go 35 strong in this one, filling the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds, and four steals, in addition to being his usual annoying self on the other end.
Of course, Rider tried hard to ruin the story in the second half, crawling back to tie the game at 44 midway through the second half partly due to junior Daniel Stewart, who would finish with 22 points and get to the free throw line 13 times (making 10).
On the other side, though, Maurice Barrow had been matching him inside the paint and when Stewart picked up a fourth foul with six minutes left, he took over to the tune of 25 points and 10 rebounds total, and the Stags were on their way to their third straight victory.
As they showed last year, in a tournament setting, Fairfield is capable of doing damage, especially in a balanced MAAC. Nickerson grabbed the game's final defensive rebound and the clock ran out, the Stags all smiles, Nickerson, of course, leading the charge.
Kind of like the site you're reading right now, Nickerson may fly below the radar of even the keenest observers, but once you actually pay attention to him for a period of time, you won't be disappointed.