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From the Bird’s Nest: Road Trip–Boca Raton

Boca Raton is a nice place to visit.

And I WOULD want to live there.

It’s always been an expensive city to live in.  But property values have shrunk in the last year or two because of unemployment.  The median price of a home now is $225, 000.  That’s down quite a bit from a couple of years ago.  But it’s still a pretty expensive place to live.  You even pay more at a fast food drive through in Boca than you do in Lafayette.  But it’s a beautiful city that just says “Florida.”

Got into town Friday about 1:00.  For the third straight year, we stayed at the Marriott Boca Center, which always seems to have something going on.  Every year we’ve gone, we’ve run into a wedding, or a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah.  This year it was two out of the three, which made for a pretty full hotel.

The weather was a little ominous.  Temps were in the 70′s but the sun was nowhere to be found.  A cool front (if you talk to the natives, they’ll tell you it’s a cold front) was on the way and rain was in the forecast.  After check-in, I did a little work on the website and then (gasp), took a nap.

Had dinner with an old high school classmate up the road in Boynton Beach.  Had dinner at a place called Two Georges, right on the water.  A mostly outdoor, come as you are kind of place.  Conch fritters and grilled dolphin…absolutely out of this world.

I’m not a big nightlife guy, so after dinner it was back to Boca and surfed the web before turning in for the night.

Saturday morning, the evidence of the overnight showers was evident.  And temps were cooler, down in the mid 50′s.  (That’s a cold front in these parts.)  Wrote a piece on the website after breakfast.  Did my pre game prep.  Watched a little college hoops.  Syracuse and Louisville.  Louisville hit nine threes in the first half and although the ‘Cuse closed the gap in the second half, it wasn’t actually what you’d call edge of your seat basketball.

Time for a late lunch.  Drove over to Highway 1 and found a Cuban restaurant called El Bayu.  Had the Cuban sandwich (ham, pork, swiss cheese, mustard and pickle on grilled Cuban bread) and moros (black beans and rice.)  Ate way too much.  Back to the hotel, a shower and then dressed for the game.

When I left for the arena, the sun had come out.  Temps were near 70 and there was a pretty strong breeze.  “Pretty cool today,” one of the hotel guests said as I got ready to walk outside.  Yeah, I’m freezing…..

The FAU campus, while in my opinion not quite as pretty as FIU is still pretty durned nice.  In fact, campus is only about two and a half miles from the ocean.  I’ve always been impressed that FAU has been able to be competitive in the Sun Belt despite gawd-awful facilities.  They’ve been playing football at a high school stadium in Fort Lauderdale, although their new stadium is under construction and should be ready for the 2011 season opener.  Their baseball facility is lower-level Southland Conference.

And, then there is “The Burrow.”

The FAU arena was more like a gymnasium than an arena the first time I came here.  But FAU got some hurricane money and refurbished the place.  It only seats 4000, but it’s all chairback seating now.  There’s a nice scoreboard at one end of the facility.  No video board, but it gives fans the info they need.

Mike Jarvis has done one helluva job at FAU in a short time.  The Owls won only six games his first season.  Last year they challenged for a good part of the year before faltering down the stretch.  They came into the game Saturday night at 18-8, 10-2 in the Sun Belt.  But they got a pretty good butt-whipping at Denver on Thursday and had a long trip to get home.  They didn’t have much prep time.  The Cajuns, in fact, got to Boca well before the Owls did.

I got a chance to meet Coach Jarvis at Media days before his first season.  Off the court, he’s a very soft spoken guy who is glad to have another chance in coaching after taking a wrong turn at St. John’s.  In addition, I broadcasted an FAU game at McNeese State in his first season and for one night was the “voice of the Owls.”  It was Thanksgiving weekend and FAU had football and women’s basketball that weekend.  I got a call from their Sports Information Director Katrina McCormack (the wife of FAU’s baseball coach) and was asked to do the game.  Since then, when coming to the FAU Arena, Coach always gives a smile and a wave before the game.  Nice guy, and an even better coach.

FAU is a really tough matchup.  They run a three guard, two point-guard offense that’s tough to defend.  Their assist/turnover ratio is the best in the league.  Raymond Taylor is only 5-6but he’s lightning-quick, can really shoot it and is very active on defense.  Alex Tucker, a junior, is a pass-first guard who is the glue to their offense.  They feature a very good off-guard in Greg Gantt who can shoot the lights out on any given night.  Brett Royster, their only senior, is the all-time shot blocker in Sun Belt history.  And, this year, they’ve added Kore White, a local kid who transferred from Marshall.  He’s 6-8, but can shoot it from outside, which makes him a tough guard.  Shavar Richardson, who started as a freshman but comes off the bench as a junior provides instant offense.  And freshman Justin McCoy is going to be a good one.

Winning on the road is tough in college basketball.  Usually if you have a two game road trip, you hope for a split.  But the Cajuns already had one in their pocket after the win over FIU on Thursday and if you get the first game on the trip, you’re disappointed with a split.  But the Cajuns would have to play very, very good basketball if they were going to get a rare road sweep.

Raymone Andrews, who had the best game of his career on Thursday against FIU (8 points, four rebounds, six assists, three steals and no turnovers in 34 minutes) celebrated his birthday on Friday.  His mom made the road trip.  His birthday wish was a sweep.  Andrews was going to be guarding Taylor most of the night..a tough matchup.

Coach Marlin was jovial in our pregame visit.  Winning six in a row will make a coach jovial.  He felt like the Cajuns had a good gameplan (this was Neil Hardin’s scouting assignment) but knew the Cajuns would really have to play well in order to win.  In particular, they’d have to shoot a good percentage, given FAU’s weapons.

Unfortunately, no one back in Lafayette got to hear the pregame show.  There were phone line issues that had to be resolved.  Misery is trying to connect with the studio and not getting a dial tone.  Their phone guy said the lines had been checked earlier in the week.  They always say that.  In this case, the jack worked, but the actual line had been cut.  Finally they got another long phone cord and we got on the air a few minutes before tipoff.

They had a long pregame.  A group of youngsters, probably about thirty of them and I’m guessing that eleven years old was the oldest, sang “God Bless America.”  Then it was time for the national anthem and a young man, I assume he’s a student, came out with an electric guitar and an amp and gave us the Jimi Hendrix version.  Those two songs took a while.

The crowd at the Burrow was listed at 2143.  And, that figure was legit, unlike the game at FIU where they announced 1100 when there were no more than 300 in the stands.  The accoustics in The Burrow were bad enough to where 2100 is a pretty loud crowd.  It made for a good atmosphere.  In a place that seats 8000, 2100 wouldn’t mean much.  And, before you turn your nose up at 2100, it’s about a thousand more than they used to get. 

The Cajuns defended extremely well in the first half, holding FAU to just 37% from the field.  They hammered the Owls on the boards 20-9.  Louisiana shot 12-23 for 52%.  They were only outscored by two at the free throw line, 7-5.

And I had a bad feeling at the half.

Despite all the gaudy numbers, the Cajuns led by only four.  They should have been up by double figures.

The reason:  The Cajuns turned it over a frightening 13 times in the first half.  The Cajuns played ten players in the first half.  Only Travis Bureau and Josh Brown failed to turn it over at least once. 

And, early in the second half, the Cajuns picked up right where they left off.  They turned it over three times in the first 65 seconds.  And, Bob Marlin had enough.  He called time out and chewed on the players for the whole 70 seconds.  The Cajuns settled down and got the lead up to six points.  But FAU found its shooting stroke and took the lead at the 13:51 mark on a three point play by Justin McCoy.  That started a back and forth game and, when Shavar Richardson nailed a three pointer with 10:59 left, FAU had a 50-49 lead.

That would be the last field goal they would make on the night.  In fact, they would only get six more field goal attempts.  They were, however, adept in drawing fouls and geting to the free throw line (FAU got 30 attempts for the game, to the Cajuns 16.)  And, as a result, the Owls stayed close and trailed by only two with 8:35 to play.  But a jumper by Randall Daigle, a layup by Bureau and another layup by Daigle increased the lead to nine with 5:38 left.  FAU got no closer than five points the rest of the way.

The Cajuns turned it over only twice in the final ten minutes.  And, the Cajuns were a perfect 16-16 from the free throw line.  Combined with their shooting down the stretch against FIU on Thursday, the Cajuns have now made 28 consecutive free throws.

After playing 32 minutes agaisnt FIU, LaRyan Gary played 34 on Saturday night, mostly on one leg.  I was going to go into detail about Gary’s night, but that deserves a blog all its own.  Look for it later in the week.  He and Daigle each had 15 points.  Raymone Andrews scored a season-high 13 and held Raymond Taylor to 7 points on 2-8 shooting.  Taylor also fouled out.  Andrews did as well, but Raymone went to the bench with his birthday present.

One other note:  Daigle’s jumper at the 6:50 mark was called a two pointer.  During the next stoppage of play, Coach Neil Hardin asked referee Dan Chrisman to check the monitor to make sure. (Coach Marlin thought it was a “3.”   Unfortunately, the folks at FAU couldn’t find the shot on their video.  Daryl Cetnar, UL’s Sports Information Director, happened to write down the time of the shot.  I got Chrisman’s attention and told him it came at 6:50.  They found it.  The call was correct.

At the next media timeout, Chrisman looked at me, pointed my way and said “thanks so much for your help.”  I smiled and nodded.

Imagine that, I made a friend with an official…..on Saturday night in the Sun Belt.

Babes

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