Last night, our tour of D-1 basketball venues within city limits took us to Wagner's Spiro Sports Center in Staten Island. It was ... an experience. For one: We saw Bryant University, in its first year in Division I-A, earn its first victory of the season, beating the hometown Seahawks 53–51 to raise their record to 1–26. 1–26! Wagner fell to 4–24 on the season.
We're getting down to crunch time on our tour: After this one, we've got just two schools remaining, culminating with Columbia next Saturday night. (Once again, the winner receives a print-out of the blog post and two sticks of butter.) So without any further ado, on to the scoring, and the recap of our unforgettable night in Staten Island.
Venue: Spiro Sports Center, Staten Island
Team: Wagner Seahawks
Ticket Price: $10
Facilities. The Spiro Sports Center has the distinction of being the most sterile venue we've checked out so far. From the outside, it's a pretty brick building that fits in nicely with the rest of Wagner's campus. But inside, it's basically a whitewashed rectangular box (save for a stripe of color circling the gym), with bleacher seating on three sides and a few rows of unused folded-up bleachers on the fourth. At least they get good use out of the place: In addition to housing the basketball, volleyball, and wrestling teams, a net for an indoor batting cage hangs above the stands behind one of the hoops. Here's what Spiro reminds us of: Think of every viral video you've ever seen with hand-held footage of some high-school kid hitting a buzzer-beating circus shot in some nondescript gym. That shot might as well have happened here. In fact, with the game tied in the final seconds, we started filming just in case, and, well, you'll see in a moment. Score: 2/10.
Quality of Play. When you head out to watch two teams that came into the game 4–49, you don't expect to see a particularly high caliber of basketball. But until you actually witness it, you can't prepare yourself for it. Rather than dive into an endless description of incompetent passing and a shooting display that makes you yearn to watch Shaq on the free-throw line, let's just look at one play.
Twenty seconds, 51–51 score, Bryant has the ball for one last shot. Bulldogs point guard Barry Latham drives the lane, guarded by Seahawks freshman Josh Thompson, who falls down. Wagner defenders collapse on Latham, so he "dishes" to Sengalese center Papa Lo, who can't handle it and throws it directly to Thompson for the steal. At this point there are six seconds left, plenty of time to streak downcourt for a last-second shot, but Thompson, perhaps dazed from his fall, thinks the shot-clock is the game clock. So he chucks it from half court. It was not a good shot. It was a very, very bad shot. How bad was it? We actually filmed it from our seat.
That's right: Thompson's half-court shot hit the rafters. Watch it again.
That left 4.1 seconds on the clock. (That's how bad of a last-second shot it was: It left several seconds on the clock.) Bryant's Raphael Jordan ended up being fouled on his drive and hit two free throws to clinch the Bulldogs' first victory in 29 games. That's how bad these teams were. We still can't believe any of this happened. Score: 0/10.
School Spirit. We were surprised, when we entered the gym, by how crowded it was. The crowd was disinterested, sure, but it was packed. It wasn't packed with students, though: It appeared to be the family activity in Staten Island. There were babies and teenagers and grandmothers and pretty much everything you'd never see at Cameron Indoor. That's cool, we figured: That's just just what they do here. Then halftime came. At halftime came the living nightmare that was Rhythm Central. Rhythm Central is a dance group of fourth graders, glammed up in Jon Benet eyeshadow and rouge, gyrating and floor-humping and booty-shaking and making the world feel like a cold, evil, terrifying place, while their parents filmed and cheered and screamed, "That's my daughter!" Yes. Yes, it is. They all packed up and went home after the show, leaving the arena about three-quarters empty and our eyes flipping like a train station arrival board, having seen things that you can never, ever unsee. Score: 2/10.
Coziness. Before Rhythm Central tore apart chunks of our soul, sections that won't ever heal, the old-school rec-center bleachers, rolled out before the game and surely rolled back afterward, left us with our knees in our chest and still bumping into everyone in our vicinity. After Rhythm Central finished its pillaging of Mother Earth, the place cleared out and we had more space to breathe. Though we couldn't, still. Score: 4/10.
Miscellaneous. Having checked the Wagner athletics website beforehand, we knew going in that last night was "Rock Nite," though we didn't quite know what that meant. Turns out it had nothing to do with music (or Dwayne Johnson, or Sean Connery), but was a reference to the Rock, Anaconda Sports' line of basketball products, which sponsored virtually every aspect of last night's festivities. As we entered the gym, we were handed Anaconda Sports catalogues. Both the cheerleaders and dance team wore the Rock T-shirts over their usual uniforms. And shots from beyond the arc were described by the P.A. announcer as "Anaconda Sports Three-Pointers" as yet more T-shirts were tossed into the crowd (during play, mind you). We're all for whatever keeps Spiro's lights on, but we're going to classify this as "excessive." Score: 2/10.
FINAL SCORE: 10. We mean no offense to the fine people of Staten Island, who are strong, sturdy, thick-boned humans. But. Don't make us go back. Please. Don't make us ever come back. We started this trip with the best of intentions. We had no idea it could turn so wrong, so black. We're going to spend the weekend huddled in the corner, hearing the Sugarhill Gang's "Jump on It," imagining the poor 9-year-olds, kemo sabe kemo sabe apache jump on it ... good Lord, it won't stop, will it?
Next up: Wednesday night, Marquette at St. John's, 7 p.m. at Carnesecca Arena in Queens. Be there.