Thursday, December 23, 2010

The World's Most Famous Arena?

By Lauren Biggers
St. John's/St. Francis
December 20 & 21, 2010

Escorting Will Reigel and Nik Cochran back to the locker room, after climbing 17,000 stairs to the radio booth, after Davidson defeated St. Francis, 76-69, I ask them what they have been doing since they arrived in New York.

Just staying around the hotel. Sleeping. I watched three movies yesterday. I think some of the guys went out and walked around a little. You?

I went to Jimmy Fallon yesterday.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the difference between a working trip and a non-working one.

Last year after six months of planning, I missed this trip due to snowstorm. So you better believe, it wasn’t going to happen again. THIS travel party arrived on Friday.

We spent the first few days catching up with old friends, meeting new ones and exploring the city that really doesn’t ever sleep. If you have seen New York at Christmas (and I hadn’t), you know how much there is to see. And if you haven’t, well then, put it on your bucket list.

It’s worth it. And why it is a little too easy to forget that we were actually in town to play some basketball games. So you’ll excuse my sister when she accused the Wildcats of ballroom dancing in the upper room of the Hotel Affinia. “UM, that’s a walk through,” corrects AT Ray Beltz and former ‘Cat Chris Clunie. Oh snap.

But that’s what was so great about this trip. The location was perfect. So many friends and family around. The City has never looked better. The Arena is historic. And the games, not just a side dish, but for yours truly, this trip was about so much more.

Captain Morgan Clark, former assistant director of marketing and current D.C. resident, flew in Friday, complete with five-day, color-coded itinerary, produced on Excel and aptly titled NYC Davidsonapalooza. We spent the first two days traipsing around the city sans other Davidsonites, until meeting SID Marc Gignac and party for shepherd’s pie Sunday, after walking back from Brooklyn by way of the Manhattan bridge (and through the Lincoln Tunnel... obligatory Elf reference).

On Monday, our travel party expanded again when former field hockey assistant coach and current England resident Becky Van Zee arrived, and yet again when after another day playing in the City (and ultimate tourist on the 30 Rock tour, where I got all the SNL trivia correct), we met Andrew LOVEdale (!!!!!) and Director of Alumni Relations Peter Wagner (! ... kidding!) at the pre-game gathering. This trip! Just! Keeps! Getting! Better!

Eventually, I made my way over to the Garden, self-billed and widely debated as the World’s Most Famous Arena. Since it was (and probably, is) obvious that my expectations for this trip were off the charts, I was warned by former SID assistant and current St. John’s GA Will Bryan (MIA because of illness. Sad face.) not to expect too much from the Garden. Don’t tell him I said so, but he was right.

The only really nice thing about the Garden is the video boards, which to be honest, aren’t even as nice as the ones at the Bobcats’ Arena. (How do you like us now, Raymond?) The seats are purple and teal, though I never got around to asking why, and the stats monitors are impossible to read. (We’re shooting 17%?! No, that’s 37. Oh, well, that’s better.) But it is charming.

I didn’t make any notes on the first half of St. John’s-Davidson because I didn’t have a pen. In fact, I didn’t have anything except my blackberry. Which I used to snap some pictures instead. Sorry, boss. I couldn’t shake the tourist act. Despite making a friend on press row (Here, you can have this program. You’ll look busy.), I relocated by Gignac and the Davidson bench for the second half. (All the better for overhearing refs. And to get on TV. Kidding?)

The second half played out much like the first: Close. BMcK made three huge treys in a row, the second of which tied the game for the fifth time, and the third of which prompted the woman beside me to ask, “Does McKillop ever miss a three?”

Neither team could shake the other, but the Johnnies built their largest lead, 51-46 with 8:18 to go on a pair of Justin Brownlee free throws. JP Koolman hit a three of his own and converted the four-point play to cut it to one with just over six to play. Jake Cohen took a nasty fall, got up bleeding and made a dramatic exit (“that was really gross in HD”), and BMcK’s fifth three-ball of the game knotted the score for the eighth time, 55-all.

A jumper from Paris Horne and two freebies by Justin Burrell was all the scoring St. John’s would get over the next five minutes, but Bootz’ layup at 5:15 was all the ‘Cats would get at all. The WL, stranded in Chicago and forced to watch the Bears on MNF, needed an update. With 16.8 seconds left. Brendan comes off a screen, gets the ball from JP at the top of the key, gets a good look... in-and-out. He misses. Johnnies win, 60-57.

A missed opportunity makes for a subdued post game, but the Wildcats had about eight hours to mourn it before focusing their attention on St. Francis. And that ballroom dancing. Me? Well, there was shopping at FAO Schwartz (look, a Real! Life! Toy! Soldier!) and Jimmy Fallon... See you in a few boys, I’m on vacation.

Trying to stick to THE ITINERARY and having the early game meant nearly running 20 blocks back to the hotel for a quick change before a business dinner with Captain Morgan, the Big Cat and lawyer-in-waiting Molly M. to discuss Access 2 Success (Andrew’s charity to bring his philosophy of faith, sports and education to Nigeria and beyond... stay tuned) before heading back to the Garden one last time. Only it’s cold out, and my feet hurt (LOTS), and the media entrance is ALL the way around the other side. Think I’ll just go in this way. Is that OK, sir? Yes? Thanks. That was (way too) easy. When I finally get around the arena, up to the media room, down to the media entrance, I am trapped in an episode of Southern girl meets abrasive New Yorkers, and I love it. And I am really starting to regret these shoes.

On the inside, it is warm, and things are off and running. St. Francis gets a quick steal, but Jake Cohen is back to swat it away (with authority) before scoring the game’s first bucket. Soon enough, though, SF has taken a 12-8 lead on an Akeem Johnson basket five minutes in. Behind an 11-0 run, including three-balls from Jake Cohen, JP Koolman and BMcK, Davidson re-snags a 19-12 lead with nine minutes left and will not trail the rest of the half, leading by as many as eight.

After a “quick” trip to the media room (So. Many. Steps.), the Wildcats open a nine-point lead out of the break. Two gimmies from Jake Cohen make it 10, one of three times the ‘Cats would lead by that many in the second half. And while, to me, the game never really felt out of hand, SF would tie the lead at 46-all and take a one-point lead on a pair of free throws by Dre Calloway with 12 minutes to go. But just like that, an 11-0 Wildcat run for another 10-point lead (told you so), and this one is all but over. Though you wouldn’t know it from watching the Davidson coaching staff.

Two free throws by Jake Cohen give Davidson its third 10-point lead, 67-57 with three to play, and the senior captain is sidelined after getting tangled up with a SF player. To Nik Cochran, finish it off.

But it is JP Koolman who is fouled one last time, standing at the line with only four SF players on the court, and Coach McKillop feeling good enough to haggle the refs a little (throw the flag!) as Davidson finishes off the 76-69 win.

Gignac’s gotta take players to TV and then Coach the to post-game presser, so I’m tasked with taking guys to radio.

Nik and Will you’re with me.
Biggers, what are you doing on the court?
UM, we usually go to the locker room first.
Are you sure?
No. Are you?

They go to the locker room. Which is where they are supposed to be. (Sorry, boss. What do I know? I’m on vacation.)

An eternity later (Will, stop fixing your hair... It’s radio), we are all wrapped up at the Garden, and I am (really, really) close to taking a cab across the street to the hotel. I pick up Peter Wagner, alone at his own little post-game celebration, to go to the hotel, where we find a much larger and dare I say, jovial (it IS Christmas) group this time.

If I know anything, I know Davidson will wish for that St. John’s game back when they watch it back. But batting .500 is pretty good. And we’re in New York at Christmas.

I’ll toast to that.

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