Unexpected In More Ways Than One

Tom Gola Arena Interior.

After spending the week getting back into college basketball and then watching a good chunk of the season’s start Friday evening, I really got the itch to head to a game. Usually, this process is a thoroughly thought-out one, however this venture was not. After scouring the schedules, I saw that La Salle was playing at home Saturday afternoon. That game started at 2 PM, then I found Penn was playing Temple in the Palestra at 5 PM. Oh Yeah! The wheels started churning and quickly a doubleheader was in place, though time and tickets were in question. This is highly, highly unusual for me since I am super organized, but on a nice Saturday with nothing going on, spontaneity got a hold of me. I also likely decided to do it since these weren’t official visits. I have been to the Palestra before (Visit #94) and La Salle’s Tom Gola Arena, falls just shy of making The List as the capacity is 3,400.

Anxiously, I started the two hour journey down to North Philadelphia, for me to get to. An hour is spent on Route 31, a single lane road most of the way with lights and my biggest pet-peeve, traffic circles. After a brief stint on I-95, I got on US-1, the Roosevelt Expressway, which was the best route into La Salle. This was my first time on that road and hopefully it is my only time. A split, semi-highway that is constantly stop and go thanks to traffic lights. I gave myself plenty of time and made it to the shopping center that is used for game-day parking about an hour early. The Explorers made the Sweet 16 last year and this was their first home game, which included a banner-raising ceremony, so I thought a sell-out was possible. I did a powerwalk to the building’s tiny ticket window and was able to get a single seat scrunched in the upper end of W5. With that being taken care of, I went back outside to take a look at this arena and snap photos. It is underwhelming to say the least for a building that opened in 1998. After a small entrance, fans walk upstairs to the floor of the arena. On the right is a lone foyer that hosts a concession stand vastly overwhelmed at times. The arena features sideline seating only and once you get to the top, various overhangs partially obstruct views. After surveying the scene, I went up into my little corner of the facility and ate a snuck-in turkey wrap while awaiting what I thought would be a solid game: LaSalle vs Manhattan.

My rooting interests sided the Jaspers way because they are in the MAAC, one of 16 geographically and sensibly organized conferences that I will be following this year. The game started ugly as most season-opening contests do. Missed shots and turnovers were common, but by the end of the first half, both teams started to put it together. It was tight much of the game, but late in the second half, Manhattan started to push the lead and George Beamon played like a stud. Down ten with four minutes left, La Salle fought back and Tyrone Garland nailed a three with 13 seconds left to tie the game. It went into Overtime and this time, it was La Salle’s turn to blow the lead. With the Jaspers down three, they pressed the Explorers into a turnover and the ensuing lay-up cut the lead to 1. After split success at the line on the other end, Rhamel Brown tied the game with seven seconds left and we would go to Double Overtime! In that session, it was all Jaspers and they went back to Riverdale with a 99-92 win. This exhilarating game was made all the better by the great crowd. Kudos to the La Salle home fans who filled most of the place up and were very vocal throughout. They knew when to get on their feet and it was a surprisingly knowledgeable and passionate group. The noise in the arena when Garland nailed the tying three was terrific. Fans in my little section were also a great group, conversing with each other and friendly with the traveling Jasper fans. Also, a nod to those fans from Manhattan as there were probably about 500 that made the trip.

Through all of this excitement and craziness, I kept looking down at my phone for the time. It takes twenty minutes on a good day to get to the Palestra and when La Salle had the ball down three, it was 4:00 PM. Unfortunately, overtime meant making it to Penn-Temple would be dicey and then double overtime sealed my fate as the game ended at 4:45 PM. I think the long game was a blessing in disguise because I later saw in the box score that the Palestra was sold out. Though Big Five basketball is one of my favorite sporting events to see live and the Palestra is an incredible place, probably a good thing I didn’t head to West Philly. I headed home from Tom Gola completely satisfied after that amazing game (I love college basketball!). Thinking about the arena on the trip back, I started wondering if this should be an official visit. Though it fell 100 seats short of my capacity cap, it felt bigger than other college venues that I have been to on The List. After going back and forth, I decided to make an exception and put it on there as the clincher was that all of the other basketball venues in the ever-changing Atlantic 10 qualify (five of which I have now been to). An official review thus will be forthcoming on what was one of the most unexpected visits that turned out to produce arguably the best game I have seen in 143 venues.


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