Hoopstock: Two days of buckets and no sleep

DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle's Jerrell Wright saves ball from going out of bounds in game against Quinnipiac.
DAVID MAIALETTI / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER La Salle's Jerrell Wright saves ball from going out of bounds in game against Quinnipiac.
Posted: November 15, 2013

IT IS MONDAY around 5 p.m. As I am driving down I-95, I begin to realize I am scheduled to wake up in about 12 hours. Only I am on my way to the Liacouras Center to see what will be the first of three games in 26 hours and who knows how many games on television during those hours when I am not writing about the three games I will be covering for the Daily News.

As I get onto North Broad Street, I am trying to remember whose idea this was anyway, this attending Temple-Kent State on Monday night, La Salle-Quinnipiac on Tuesday morning and Penn-Monmouth on Tuesday night while catching as much of ESPN's Tip-Off Marathon as possible and then, presumably after some sleep, writing about the experience.

It is when I am walking into the Temple press room that I suddenly realized it was my idea, my way of kicking off the college basketball season. What exactly was I thinking?

See old friend Tim Welsh, the onetime coach at Iona and then Providence, now an analyst for ESPN. He is about to get voting rights in the city. He has been in town since Saturday when he took in the La Salle-Manhattan game at Gola Arena before heading to the Palestra for Temple-Penn.

He is doing the same night/day twinbill that is starting my journey, broadcasting both games. He did not seem interested in the trip to West Long Branch, N.J. I forget to mention there might be a stop at nearby Monmouth Park.

Temple is probably the biggest unknown in the city because so many players are getting major minutes, players who have gotten few minutes in the past.

I am quite impressed by the speed of point guard Will Cummings, unleashed now with all those other scoring options gone. The Owls can't miss early and lead most of the way against Kent State.

I made a note to myself before the game that Jack Pepper had held the Pennsbury High scoring record for 22 years before Jason Vegotsky, who went on to have a very nice career at Bucknell, broke it by finishing with 1,552 points.

Anybody around Pennsbury back then knew Jason's record was not going to last long. Jack's son, Dalton, was a basketball prodigy, always playing way up in age group. And he was just a few years away from high school.

Dalton scored 2,207 points at Pennsbury. His college future looked great. It had not worked out like expected.

Now, here I am looking at an older Dalton, starting his fifth college season. Somebody for Temple needs to do something. Kent State is hanging. Dalton does something.

He hits a three to get the lead from a point to four. He flies in for a tip. He hits a terrific turnaround in the lane. He splits a double-team and arcs a one-hander in perfectly. Anybody who watched Dalton when he was young has seen all this before. I really think his nine-point run is going to get the Owls home.

Kent State, however, lands the last punch and wins by four.

How often have we heard that the team blew a big lead and lost? How often do we hear that the team was good enough to get a lead? I look at Temple as that kind of team, good enough to get there, not quite good enough yet to finish.

It is about 10:45 when I head to my car in the parking lot next to McGonigle Hall. I am planning to set my alarm for 5 a.m. There is just one problem. The exit gate to Broad Street appears locked. While I contemplate exactly how I might appear if I sleep in my car in that lot and then head up Broad Street in the morning for La Salle, I get out to examine the gate. Turns out it is just closed, not locked. I escape.

Home at 11:30, I turn on ESPN. It says TB is ahead of MIA, 22-19, with the clock winding down. While I try to remember what conferences they are in, I realize this is the NFL. Even though I desperately want to hear more about Richie Incognito, I turn to ESPN2 for more hoops.

Seth Greenberg is yelling. BYU is at Stanford, fouls are being called every 5 seconds and the score is mounting. Seth is still yelling. My head begins to hurt.

I want to stay awake to watch some of Wichita State-Western Kentucky, which starts at 1 a.m. I fall in and out of consciousness. Seth is keeping me awake. He just will not stop shrieking.

I wake up and St. Mary's is killing Akron. I watch 35 seconds. I want to get to 20th and Olney before 7 so I can catch Hartford-Florida Gulf Coast.

Cardinal O'Hara and Saint Joseph's grad John Gallagher has his best team yet at Hartford. And was there a better show on earth than Gulf Coast at the Wells Fargo Center last March?

I catch a few minutes of New Mexico State at Hawaii. One player sort of stands out. That would be 7-5 New Mexico State sophomore Jim Bhullar. I think I see him dunk without jumping. I am sure I see him dunk without jumping. New Mexico State is well ahead as halftime nears.

I find out BYU won, 112-103, that there were 52 fouls called and 77 free throws attempted. Welcome to the new world of college basketball. Fouls will be called until the fouling stops and freedom of movement returns.

The headache returns. I blame it on Seth as I pop two Advil and head off for Gola, with the temperature below 40 and, according to Harry Donahue, snow in the forecast. Did I sleep until January?

The New Mexico State game won't end. While waiting for the finish in the Gola press room, I find out that Wichita suffocated Western Kentucky, playing defense the way La Salle fans know so well. I also read that the last 113 Wichita regular-season home games have attracted crowds of 10,000 or more. Amazing.

Hartford is off to a great start, but Gulf Coast is about to start a comeback. Dunk machine Chase Fieler can't be guarded. Hartford is facing a force of nature, Gulf Coast on its homecourt for the first time since leaving Philly. The home team pulls away. I look outside and see snowflakes.

I walk up to the steps to the arena. Where did all these people come from at this hour?

Tyreek Duren takes two steals end-to-end and I sense a rout. Wrong.

La Salle gets the ball where it wants. It just can't finish plays. Quinnipiac hangs around, but I always figure La Salle is going to win. Eventually, they do and send me on my way home for a few hours.

I write the account of the game while watching Massachusetts and LSU play in the 11 a.m. game. UMass wins, 92-90. Scoring is definitely up. Chaz Williams has to be a senior. I check to make sure. He is a fifth-year senior after a transfer, but the point guard/blur is indeed a senior. LSU has some serious athletes.

Virginia Tech and West Virginia are playing down to the wire as I check directions to Monmouth.

I would not mind staying home to watch the Champions Classic from the United Center in Chicago - No. 1 Kentucky against No. 2 Michigan State, followed by No. 4 Duke and No. 5 Kansas, a November Final Four.

But a deal is a deal. And DVR exists.

I make the trip into New Jersey and across I-195 and then up Route 18 to Route 36. As I near the turnoff for Monmouth Road and the university, I consider staying straight and stopping off at the track to check out the late races from Turf Paradise. But I turn where I am supposed to turn.

Enter the sparking MAC (Multipurpose Activity Center) and run into Rich Carragher, the St. Joe's manager from back in the day, now in charge of events at Monmouth University near he where grew up.

The game is sleep-inducing, which is not what I need at this stage. I am not sure whether Monmouth is tough so Penn can never get comfortable. Or Penn is making so many mistakes that it can never get comfortable. Penn wins. I write something, but I am not quite sure what. I try hard to get the score right.

As I pack up, Kentucky-Michigan State is in the final minutes on the press room television. The Spartans, who have been leading forever, still lead. UK can't make free throws. John Calipari had said he hoped his team would be unbeaten. They won't be.

Did you hear my man Cal a few weeks ago when he was talking about Kentucky's place in college basketball? I don't remember the exact quote, but I think I'm close. Coach Cal said we don't just play college basketball, we are college basketball.

I head toward home and pick up Duke-Kansas on radio. Sounds like high-quality hoops for Nov. 12. Can't wait to see Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins.

Arrive home a little after 11, 30 hours after I left for Temple on Monday afternoon and with 3 minutes to go until halftime. Parker has gone off. Wiggins has been out with foul trouble.

So, three live games at three arenas in two states, half the city teams seen in person and parts of several others on television in 26 hours.

I will be at St. Joe's tomorrow night to see Creighton and Doug McDermott, followed by a trip to Villanova on Sunday for the game against Towson and then Monday evening at Rutgers for Drexel-Elon in a preseason NIT game. That will be three games in 48 hours, an eternity in a college basketball season that is just beginning, but to me, feels like it has been going on for a while.

The second half of KU-Duke begins. I watch the teams run and up down the floor a few times. I close my eyes for a second. The next thing I hear is Bill Self talking. I take that as a sign Kansas won. My eyes stay closed. I will watch it all later when I am coherent.

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