Game #9-428: Long Island Blackbirds at Wagner SeahawksFebruary 24, 2013 8:00 pm
Spiro Sports Center
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. - The "forgotten borough" is an often tongue-in-cheek way for New Yorkers to refer to Staten Island, by far the least populated of the five City boroughs, and also by far the toughest to get to from Manhattan (or Connecticut, for that matter).
Staten Island is the only borough that the subway doesn't connect to the rest, and while the ferry does the job in 20-25 minutes from Battery Park, quite frankly, it's a pain in the ass (what eloquence).
However, in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the "forgotten borough" moniker was no joke. While early reports focused on Manhattan flooding and power outages, it wasn't until the coming days that it was revealed that coastal areas of Staten Island were devastated
, many people forced out of their homes forever.
Sunday was my first real visit to Staten Island, other than the occasional drive-bys, but even those are rare given the geography and where I live. There's just not much reason to go to Staten Island, sorry.
But there was on this night. The Northeast Conference may not rank very high in the computer rankings and their champion is almost certainly destined for Dayton and a play-in game, but if you want me to rank the entertainment value of the various conferences I've seen in the past couple of seasons, the NEC might be atop the list.
Usually an offensive show in a small gym with a game that goes down to the final moments, the players might be small, none of them may go on to an NBA career, but I - for one - could care less. I love this league.
I arrived on the surprisingly picturesque Wagner campus ridiculously early, not really having anywhere to go after the Lafayette-Lehigh contest. I got a ticket, and actually found a comfortable place in the back of the Spiro Center to write a little bit. No one bothered me, or asked me what the hell I was doing there.
Soon, Wagner cheerleaders occupied the adjacent couch, drawing pictures for Senior Night, and the Long Island team arrived at their locker room soon after, most adorning headphones, of course. I watched the security go through the protocol for the evening, most times a formality, but they would have their hands full on this evening.
At about 7 p.m., I put my computer away, walked back to my car to put it away, and entered an already loud Spiro Center. I was given a white T-shirt on the condition that I actually put it on. So I took a seat behind the far hoop in my white "Wagner Superfan" attire. Yea, I have no shame when it comes to NEC basketball.
I looked around at the gym. There would be no light shows for the starting lineups. No fancy replay scoreboards hanging from the ceiling (only batting cages). Not a sky box to be seen. This was rivalry basketball as it was made to be. New York City style. I have been in plenty of good environments this season, and what I saw at the Spiro Center might have been the best.
One of my favorite things to do on road trips is to bring an audio book, only on my trip to Chicago, I couldn't get to the public library in time. Stuck, I pilfered (with permission) one from the school where I work, a much more limited selection, but I was able to grab one of my all-time favorites, "To Kill A Mockingbird". I didn't quite get through it on my trip, mostly thanks to a fabulous Indiana State student radio station and some interesting NPR broadcasts.
But as I crossed the Goethals Bridge into Staten Island, Bob Ewell had been subdued (and killed) and everything was wrapping up. The novel features one of my favorite sayings from one of my favorite characters in literature, Atticus Finch, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view - until you climb into his skin and walk around a little."
Jamal Olasewere was soaked with sweat 45 minutes before tip-off Sunday night. With reigning NEC Player of the Year Julian Boyd done for the season with a torn ACL, the pressure has fallen to Olasewere to keep the Blackbirds afloat, and for the most part, he had done a decent job, LIU was still in the running for a regular season title making the short trip to Staten Island from Brooklyn.
The Achilles' heel for Olasewere has been his discipline, he often impetuously picks up cheap fouls or poor decisions with the ball. But when he's rolling, he's probably the best interior scorer in the league, not to mention his rebounding ability and length.
In September, Olasewere showed a lack of discipline off the court as he and three teammates were arrested after an on-campus fight. From the New York Times report
: "Olasewere, 21, is accused of pushing a woman to the ground and kicking her in the head."
I wondered what it would be like to Google my name and have that article come up on the front page for something I did as a 21-year-old. To hear the Wagner students remind me of it for three consecutive hours (yes, they started early) during a basketball game on national television.
Now let's be clear: I'm not giving Olasewere a free pass (he was eventually suspended for two conference games, both of which LIU lost), nor am I saying that student sections shouldn't be allowed to exhibit free speech. But I'm just saying put yourself in Olasewere's sneakers for a moment. He's not a kid, but still a young man, who has obviously - like a lot of youngsters - struggled to control himself from time to time.
This was going to be a tough spot for him.
Olasewere started off brilliantly, scoring eight points, including two #superhoops, in the first three minutes of the contest. As advertised, the offenses (in mid-season, young coach Bashir Mason basically reshaped the Seahawks from a defensive, slow-down squad into one that likes to run, with decent success) ruled the show and with five minutes left in the first half, the Blackbirds led 38-25.
However, Olasewere picked up his second foul soon after and Wagner cut the lead to seven by halftime. Mason was extremely animated in this one, and with the crowd spurring them on, the Seahawks had the lead seven minutes into the second half.
Mario Moody had a string of #omgdunx, and Dwaun Anderson started a string of #superhoops
and suddenly Wagner was in complete control, leading 88-78 with 2:06 left.
But this is the NEC, and LIU was far from done. Jason Brickman hit the final in a trip of #superhoops
to cut the lead to 88-87 with 30 seconds remaining and then tied it at 92 with 13.1 seconds remaining.
By now, no one could hear a thing in the Spiro Center, but Mason chose to eschew calling a time out, which wasn't really a great decision, Latif Rivers ended up taking an off-balance airball with three seconds to go.
However, point guard Kenneth Ortiz, one of the smartest players I've seen all year, knew there was no harm in following the shot at that point, and found himself all alone on the weak side with the easiest buzzer-beater you'll ever see.
Bedlam. Beautiful, beautiful bedlam at the Spiro Center.
As the eyes that weren't bouncing up and down already on the court turned to Ortiz, mine went straight to Olasewere. He stood under the basket, staring into space, fortunately away from the fray. One man actually went up and shook his hand and chatted with him for a little bit.
There was a problem, though. When Ortiz's apparent winner went through the hoop there were still 0.8 seconds left. Everyone had to clear the court until LIU could throw a desperation heave that got knocked away.
This time, Olasewere found himself a little closer to the celebration and stood like a statue as people buzzed by him in all directions. One fan had the guts to point at him on the way by. Olasewere showed restraint but looked ready to say something back when an assistant coach came to the rescue and ushered him into the locker room.
Seconds after he made it there and a few seats from me, a scuffle broke out after an LIU fan came into the section yelling and pointing. It was quickly broken up by a couple of NYPD officers, and things quickly quieted down.
Look, I'm as a big a fan of court storming as anyone, and I had no problem logistically with the Wagner students doing it after this game even if LIU's record isn't great and it wasn't a championship game.
I'm also not a big "safety first" advocate, but as I watched everything unfold, I did see the logic in what the SEC has done in recent years, fining schools heavily
if their fans make it onto the court. Maybe I'm being over the top, but it wouldn't have taken much for the scene to turn ugly Sunday night.
And what a shame that would have been. In an era that emphasizes defense, I saw 186 combined points, 18 #superhoops, probably a dozen #omgdunx, almost as many offensive rebounds as defensive ones, a sell-out crowd in an old-school gym, and a buzzer beater for the home team.
Welcome to NEC basketball. Their champion may not make the noise in mid-March that some others do, but I was reminded of another Mockingbird quote on the way back through the bridges and boroughs of New York City back to Connecticut.
"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
And the NEC is made up of folks, too.
at WAGNER 94, LONG ISLAND 92
LONG ISLAND 15-13 (10-6) -- C. Garner 5-11 10-11 22; J. Brickman 5-11 6-6 19; J. Olasewere 8-14 1-4 21; B. Thompson 1-2 0-0 2; E. Reed 3-6 1-2 7; K. Onyechi 0-2 5-6 5; B. Hucks 3-6 0-0 7; G. Martin 1-2 0-0 2; T. Joseph 3-4 0-0 7. Totals 29-58 23-29 92.
WAGNER 16-11 (10-6) -- L. Rivers 3-12 4-4 12; K. Ortiz 4-10 0-3 8; J. Williams 7-10 5-6 20; J. Thompson 2-3 2-3 6; M. Moody 7-10 4-5 19; O. Parker 4-6 0-1 8; M. Burton 4-6 0-0 9; D. Anderson 3-5 0-0 9; N. Folahan 1-1 1-1 3. Totals 35-63 16-23 94.
Three-point goals: LIU 11-21 (B. Hucks 1-4; C. Garner 2-4; J. Olasewere 4-4; B. Thompson 0-1; J. Brickman 3-5; T. Joseph 1-2; E. Reed 0-1), WAG 8-16 (J. Thompson 0-1; L. Rivers 2-6; M. Burton 1-3; J. Williams 1-1; M. Moody 1-1; D. Anderson 3-4); Rebounds: LIU 31 (J. Olasewere 7), WAG 26 (K. Ortiz 6); Assists: LIU 16 (J. Brickman 7), WAG 18 (K. Ortiz 9); Total Fouls -- LIU 19, WAG 21; Fouled Out: LIU-E. Reed; WAG-None.