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The new Agent Zero.

nyc college hoops road trip

NYC College Hoops Road Trip: Long Island University

Last night, our epic Tour of NYC Hoops continued with a trip to Long Island University to watch the Long Island Blackbirds take on the Robert Morris Colonials. It was an epic Northeast Conference battle.

We are proud to say that, in our second game, a New York team finally won: LIU beat Robert Morris 74–64, defying our poor video-game prediction. The game not only snapped a six-game Blackbirds losing streak, it sent Long Island into first place in the NEC, at 3–0. Considering NEC tournament games are held at the arena of the higher seed, we are crossing our fingers for an NEC title game on ESPN2, on the LIU campus. (Oh, and St. Francis (NY) is hanging in as well.)

Kyle Johnson, pictured (photography!), was the leading scorer with 22 points, and by the end of the game, we were referring to him exclusively as Agent Zero. We understand the name is currently open.

Anyway, we continue with our First Annual Best College Hoops Venue in NYC contest — remember, winner receives a printed-out version of the blog post, and two sticks of butter — with our rundown of the evening's venue.

Venue: Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center, Brooklyn
Team: Long Island Blackbirds
Ticket Price: $8

Facilities: We're not sure exactly why the Wellness, Recreation and Athletic Center has so many amenities, but boy, it sure does. First off, let's talk about their scoreboard that hangs down from the ceiling. It's legitimate, with ads and "D-FENCE" and "MAKE SOME NOISE" exhortations to non-existent fans. (More on that in a bit.) The WRAC (as they call it, perhaps hoping you'll confuse it with the RAC) has a little scoreboard in two of the corners, too, though they don't show the score: They simply show the Blackbirds' official sponsors. (Thanks, Daily News!) This is a nice building, and even more important: Unlike St. Francis's "stadium," it's sports-only. Plus: The Blackbirds might not exactly be big-time, but their soaring, inspirational public-address announcer sure is. Score: 7/10.

Quality of Play. Robert Morris's head coach, Mike Rice, is considered one of the candidates for the open Fordham job, and it's not hard to see why: He's a dictionary illustration of the sweaty, hyperintense coach who wears a suit jacket only to throw it to the floor in frustration five minutes in. The Colonials looked better coached and better prepared in the first half, but Long Island's superior team took over in the second half. After watching St. Francis and CCSU flail around the court last month, it was nice to watch a team that could actually hit a three-pointer or two. We're still talking low-tier Division I hoops here, but both of these teams will contend for the NEC title. That's still not saying much, though: After all, the whole game, we saw just one dunk. And it almost bounced out. Score: 4/10.

School Spirit. LIU gets points for having a band: It just feels like a college basketball game when there's a band playing "Rock and Roll Part 2." Otherwise, it was awfully quiet in the WRAC. The Howard Sternheim Ph '54 Student Section (rolls off the tongue!) was virtually empty, and spectators could spread out as much as they wanted elsewhere. (The densest sections were the ones containing the LIU and Robert Morris women's teams, who'd played the first game of the doubleheader beforehand.) The dance team — really more of a cheerleading squad, considering they led many cheers but did not do any dancing — was energetic, but ten people can only make so much noise. In everyone's defense, we're between semesters right now, so the Blackbirds couldn't count on the all-important "milling about campus and stopping in for a game" factor. Score: 4/10.

Coziness. With so little, oh, action happening in the stands, it's difficult to inspire much collegiality. (Honestly, we don't think there was a student there who didn't play for the women's team.) Even with this, the WRAC still manages to be a little off-putting. There's security everywhere — a "campus" policeman ripped our tickets — and unlike Peter Aquilone Court, there are barriers stopping you from walking onto the court. (Which, of course, is probably a good thing.) We did love the team's official sponsor, though: Pipitone's Pizza and Pasta, the official pizza of the Blackbirds. When we left the gym, sure enough, there was Pipitone's, just a regular pizza place, supporting the team. Score: 5/10.

Miscellaneous. The presence of a scoreboard hanging above the court, in theory, should lend something of a big-arena feel to the WRAC. After all, even a major program like St. John's didn't have such a luxury on campus until recently. In practice, though, it's a total nuisance, because it's the only scoreboard, and you have to look straight up to see it from most places. (We imagine this must drive players crazy; they wouldn't be able to see the score from many areas on the court.) In fact, the whole building has a vibe of a home court designed for a bigger program. For example, private suites hover over one end of the court, but they remained empty. Which is too bad: Those seats are the only ones at eye level with the scoreboard. 2/10.

FINAL SCORE: 22. The superior facilities aren't enough to make up for the total paucity of people there who, you know, actually care about the game. So it ends up in a tie with St. Francis. Though we think having a friar on your bench gives the Terriers the tiebreaker.

Next up: January 13, Cincinnati versus St. John's and Dayton versus Fordham, a doubleheader at the Garden. See you there.

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Photo: Will Leitch