Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the NEC and MAAC Conferences. He attended the Aeropostale Holiday Festival on Sunday this past weekend.
NEW YORK CITY – The games on the ‘big stage’ are an event. The crowds, the media crush, the atmosphere which hints of March. Example as are the Jimmy V, Coaches vs.Cancer, Xavier-Duke at Izod Center. Granted the latter was a blowout but the stage was set.
Sunday gave a different scenario but a special one just the same. Noon, a snowy day in New York, two mid majors tipping it off at Madison Square Garden. Columbia and Marist met in the Aeropostale Holiday Festival consolation game. The crowd was sparse but enthusiastic. The play, not always the greatest but competitive and entertainingly enjoyable. “These games are always special,” said veteran AP college basketball writer Jim O’Connell. “Especially when two teams like this get a chance to play at a venue as this.”
The Garden, even a sparsely attended one, is still a big thing. Marist brought, count them, 23 cheerleaders. And a band as good as there is around. Columbia brought their entire cheer and dance squad.
The game saw Columbia battle back from a 10 point second half deficit largely on the play of K.J. Matsui. The 6-2 senior drained two treys and took a charge, “he didn’t take charges prior to senior year,” joked coach Joe Jones, to ignite the run. The contest went down to the final seconds with the Lions prevailing 63-58.
A consolation game on a Sunday morning following a loss on Saturday, no problem per Columbia senior forward Jason Miller. “In our (Ivy) league we play a lot of conference games back to back,” Miller said. “I’m a senior, to get to play in the best arena ever is great. To play in Madison Square Garden is exciting. To win here even better.”
Marist coach Chucky Martin echoed the sentiment. “I’m a Bronx guy,” Martin said. “It’s great to coach and compete here. The only unfortunate part is not leaving the building with a win.”
The second game saw Virginia Tech defeat St. John’s 81-67 for the championship. Tech coach Seth Greenburg spoke about growing upon Long Island and coming to the city to watch Joe Lapchick coached St. John’s teams compete in the Garden. “When you play here,” Greenburg said, “you play in a way you respect the game.”
Greenburg knows. He’s in the ACC now but his roots are mid-major, as a player at Fairleigh Dickinson University and later a head coach at Long Beach State. And he knows and appreciates how special is to get the privilege to play in Madison Square Garden.