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Tourism leaders believe "so far, so good" on Day One of NCAA hoops

They came from the Buffalo area, from other parts of Western New York and from out of town, shuffling inside the KeyBank Center Thursday for the first round of games in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

The first game of the day pitted Notre Dame versus Princeton. Joseph from North Tonawandfa was among numerous Fighting Irish fans who flocked to the arena. He is one of many among a national following who back Notre Dame, even if they didn't attend the university. He was excited when it was revealed last Sunday that the Fighting Irish would be among those coming to Buffalo.

"We were ecstatic," he told WBFO outside KeyBank Center. "We want to see (player) Bonzie Colson. Just awesome."

Princeton was also well represented in Buffalo. Isaiah Barnes was among a group of students who traveled by car to see their Tigers compete. Making the tournament appearance extra special is that it happens in his senior year at the Ivy League school.

"There hasn't been a better time," he said. "We've had some close calls and finally we've been able to break through in the league and we won the tournament. Here we are and we couldn't be more excited."

Alas, it was not meant to be for Princeton, who fell to Notre Dame. Also arriving Thursday morning was Kathy who, along with her family, traveled to Buffalo from Batavia. She's a West Virginia graduate who was coming to see her alma mater face Bucknell in first-round competition. Kathy admitted she had good luck on her side.

"Obviously I bought tickets before I even knew that they were going to be here," she said. "I just took the chance and when I saw they were playing well during the season, and knew that the NCAA likes to keep teams close, I was hoping West Virginia would be up here."

Dominic Silvers arrived in Buffalo from Lewisburg, Pennsylvania to support Bucknell, his employer. He traveled to Buffalo several years ago. He noticed the changes downtown.

"We literally just rolled into town and got off the bus and haven't had much time to look around, but first impressions is that there's been a lot of development down here," he said.

One block away from the KeyBank Center doors, volunteers from Visit Buffalo Niagara were offering restaurant guides to passing fans. They were also offering free samples of sponge candy, with the hope of raising out-of-town visitors' interest in other things Buffalo has to offer during their stay. 

Patrick Kaler, president and CEO of Visit Buffalo Niagara, was pleased with how the promotional effort was going on day one of the tournament. He also praised those who worked to clear the area of snow that had fallen the previous two days.

"We've got a bright blue-sky day here for all the people to walk up to the arena," he said. "The city and the county did a fantastic job getting all the streets and the sidewalks open. I think we're off to a really good start."

Kaitlyn, who was among a group of out-of-town Princeton fans, was among those who accepted a sample of sponge candy. She and her peers have done exactly what tourism leaders have hoped for, checking out the city beyond its sports arena.

"We've already been to Anchor Bar wings, because the wings are famous," she said. "We just came from Pearl Street Bar and Grill and we're up for anything, exploring."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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