"Not all of us can do great things. But all of us can do small things with great love." - Mother Teresa
Game #9-453: Quinnipiac Bobcats at Long Island BlackbirdsMarch 6, 2013 7:00 pm
BROOKLYN, N.Y. - I'm partial to neutral-site conference tournaments, whether it be high school or college, really. Having all the teams you regularly play and know in one place leads to an interesting party atmosphere. After all, if you take out the two months of conference play, usually these guys are your best friends in the business.
Of course, the Northeast Conference has a tendency to do things its own way. And that's why we love it so much. It has been one of the favorites of this site from its launch
, and has certainly featured in some of my favorite sites and moments in the two years of going to games for TMM. As Kyle said eight years ago, if you wrote a sequel to "The Last Amateurs", the NEC would be the likely candidate.
So you can't blame the NEC for keeping its postseason tournament at home sites. After all, renting a site for a neutral tournament costs money they probably don't have.
And so I made my way to Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn Wednesday night for most likely my final NEC game of the season, a quarterfinal between sixth-seeded Quinnipiac and No. 3 Long Island.
The WRAC wouldn't be completely full for this one, but the crowd was big and loud enough that you got a little Thunderdome flowing through your veins
as the game as the teams traded shots, knowing one team would advance and the other would not leave alive (at least as far as this season is concerned).
I was moving up in the world as well, with John Templon of Big Apple Buckets in Chicago, I got to be a real-live media member for a night, with a seat on press row and everything.
I had forgotten how many trees are innocently killed each season by Sports Information people as I sit here with a stack of papers from the contest that I will desperately try to recycle when I'm done with this article. Contrary to popular belief, press row is often not the best seat in the house, it's so low that you can't really see the whole court clearly, and it's easy to get distracted by the computer in front of you. All that beeping and blinking.
There are things we take for granted in this world. Death. Taxes. Being able to be disqualified from a basketball game because of a certain number of personal fouls.
Other sports have ejections for violent conduct or egregious abuse of officials or a variety of other things, but few (if any) have a rule that you can be eliminated from the contest for garden-variety breaches of the law.
Yet we just accept that's just the way it is. In fact, it wasn't always that way. In James Naismith's original rules, which he drew up in 1891, three consecutive fouls by a team led to the other team being awarded a point. Hmmm, that's a thought.
Somewhere around 1908, more than a decade before the rule allowing substitutions was enacted, the leaders of the game decided that to limit physical play, a player should be disqualified of they commit five fouls. It's been tweaked over the years (the Big East once experimented with six fouls and the NBA uses six for a 48-minute regulation game.)
But more than a century later, here we were, in the heart of Brooklyn, in the biggest game of the season for two-time defending champion LIU and Quinnipiac, watching players leave the game after being disqualified with five fouls.
To begin, though, we must go back. I've written about LIU senior Jamal Olasewere before
, the ultra-talented but sometimes a bit impetuous Blackbirds star, who two days before this game was named NEC Player of the Year, and deservedly so. He finished with 20 points and nine rebounds, but this was not his type of game, being called extremely tightly from the opening tip.
Quinnipiac thought they had a second foul called on him on a couple of occasions, and finally got it with 2:32 left in the first half. With Olasewere on the bench, the Bobcats immediately went on a run to grab a 47-43 halftime lead.
Olasewere got his fourth foul with 11:02 left in the game and his team trailing 65-56. Game, set, and match it appeared. First-year coach Jack Perri tried his best to show restraint, he knew his player well, knew that complete restraint probably wasn't in the cards, but he also was well aware that a loss here was the end of the season and Olasewere's career.
I saw Perri continue to pace the sidelines and a couple of occasions Olasewere stand up and start to go to the scorer's table, only to have Perri tell him to sit. Because I was a media-type, I was able to ask Perri afterward, who said that he originally planned on putting Olasewere back in earlier, but LIU was hanging in there, and - led by C.J. Garner - actually had the lead down to six.
But like a hot tag in an old-school WWE matchup, Perri finally summoned Olasewere with 6:15 left and LIU down seven. Within three minutes, the Blackbirds had the lead and the WRAC was up for grabs.
Of course, Olasewere's teammate E.J. Reed has already fouled out with 6:45 to go. But Quinnipiac was not immune to the fouling affliction, either. Second-team all-NEC forward and leading scorer Ike Azotam picked up his fifth foul with 5:04 left. Starting guard and second-leading scorer Zaid Hearst was gone with 4:16 to go. With 2:34 on the clock, starting point guard Dave Johnson was forced to the bench. And 29 seconds left, Ousmane Drame - probably the best player on floor- was called for charging and it was his fifth.
Six players, perhaps Quinnipiac's four most valuable, were no longer eligible in a game that would eliminate one team.
LIU was obviously without last year's NEC Player of the Year as well, Julian Boyd, who suffered an ACL injury in early January.
Who was left? Well, Garner was still there. The senior - who would finish with 30 points - hit a jumper to put LIU up 84-80. Jason Brickman, the nation's leader in assists, was also still playing. His brilliant pass led to a Kenny Onyechi dunk and the Blackbirds held on for what seemed like an improbable victory just minutes earlier.
Of course, being a media-type meant I actually had to file a story on deadline, which I did for Big Apple Buckets (it has actual quotes if you want those
). At bigger conferences, surely the media room isn't stuck in the basement, surrounded by the LIU leaders in planking and other kind of fitness information.
As it turned out, my former colleague at the New Haven Register Bill Cloutier was at the game and offered me a ride back to Connecticut. I told him thanks, but I had already paid for the train and he was going to have to hang around and file a couple of stories.
Victorious LIU came and went, as did Quinnipiac's Azotam, but we waited for Quinnipiac coach Tom Moore (this was the final NEC game for the Bobcats, by the way, they head to the MAAC next season). And waited. And waited. Finally, Moore appeared, but by the time he was done, there was no way I was getting to Grand Central Station and the train on time.
So I needed the ride home. For a while, you could hear the basketballs above us being bounced up in the main gym, but they stopped, and a LIU worker came down saying that they needed to lock the place up. Bill was done anyway, so we walked out of the now-dark WRAC to the ancient LIU parking garage that had several puddles even though I had no clue where the liquid to fill them was coming from.
Without having to actually steer the vehicle, I was able to enjoy the late-night scenery as we zipped past the Manhattan skyline into Queens and across the Whitestone Bridge to the Bronx before escaping New York City on the way back to New Haven.
I had a chance to think of my favorite NEC moments of the year: the LIU-Wagner game, the trips to St. Francis in Brooklyn Heights, heading up to Bryant, Velton Jones playing despite being hurt at Quinnpiac, the Kyle Vinales show at Central Connecticut. I may not have seen a whole lot of defense, but for pure entertainment value, it can't be beat (in my humble opinion).
So, goodbye for now, NEC. Don't ever change who you are. Even if very few people get you. Kind of like a website I know.
at LONG ISLAND 91, QUINNIPIAC 83
QUINNIPIAC 15-16 (11-7) -- E. Conti 5-13 2-2 14; S. Shannon 3-8 1-2 8; O. Drame 8-15 7-14 23; J. Jackson 4-6 2-3 10; Z. Hearst 3-10 0-0 8; D. Johnson 1-6 1-2 3; I. Azotam 3-6 8-8 14; J. Ford Jr 1-3 0-0 3; K. Ray 0-1 0-0 0; G. Young 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-68 21-31 83.
LONG ISLAND 18-13 (12-6) -- J. Brickman 2-3 5-6 10; C. Garner 10-20 7-11 30; B. Thompson 2-8 8-10 13; J. Olasewere 6-10 8-9 20; B. Hucks 2-4 0-0 5; K. Onyechi 2-3 1-4 5; E. Reed 1-2 0-0 3; T. Joseph 1-3 0-0 3; K. Murphy 1-1 0-0 2; G. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 29-40 91.
Three-point goals: QUIN 6-13 (E. Conti 2-4; Z. Hearst 2-3; J. Ford Jr 1-2; S. Shannon 1-4), LIU 8-20 (B. Hucks 1-3; C. Garner 3-6; J. Olasewere 0-2; B. Thompson 1-4; J. Brickman 1-1; T. Joseph 1-3; E. Reed 1-1); Rebounds: QUIN 39 (J. Jackson 9), LIU 27 (K. Onyechi 6); Assists: QUIN 14 (D. Johnson 4), LIU 13 (J. Brickman 7); Total Fouls -- QUIN 31, LIU 22; Fouled Out: QUIN-I. Azotam; LIU-J. Olasewere.