Monday, February 16, 2015

DePaul Blue Demons 78 at St. John's Red Storm 86 (NCAA Basketball, Big East) - February 11, 2015

New York City and its nearby suburbs play host to 14 Division I college basketball teams: Columbia, Fairleigh Dickinson, Fordham, Hofstra, Iona, LIU Brooklyn, Manhattan, NJIT, St. Francis, St. Johns, Saint Peter's, Seton Hall, Stony Brook, and Wagner.  You could include Rutgers, Princeton, and Rider too I suppose, or even Fairfield, Sacred Heart, Yale, and Quinnipiac, depending on how wide you draw the circle. Of all these teams, St. John's is probably the most famous, simply because they play a number of their Big East contests in Madison Square Garden. Red Storm alumni include Chris Mullin, Dick McGuire, and Malik Sealy among others, and their current head coach is Steve Lavin, former bench boss at UCLA. St. John' first played in 1908 and ranks 8th in total wins among NCAA schools.

St. John's usually plays non-conference games on campus at Carnesecca Arena, but moves to MSG when conference play begins. However, there are a couple of contests every season where the Garden cannot accommodate, and the Queens campus becomes the site of a Big East battle. Such was the case last week when the DePaul Blue Demons visited St. John's in a 9:00 pm start at Carnesecca. The late tip-off meant that I could easily get there after work and add another venue to my count, now at 525. Carnesecca Arena was opened in 1961 and renamed after legendary coach Lou Carnesecca in 2004.  His signature now adorns the floor, a nice touch.

The arena is easily accessible from the Q46 bus from Kew Gardens that runs along Union Turnpike. You can alight at 175th Street if you are on the local or Utopia Parkway is you catch the limited (express in other words). The entrance is around the back of the building. You pass through a metal detector and enter the crowded arena lobby, where sponsor tables line one wall making it difficult to see the trophies on display.

There are 5,602 seats here, with most just simple benches, even down low on one side. Tickets for games here can be found on StubHub for less than $10 (I paid $6 and others paid $4) so don't even think about checking the box office, where the cheapest is $30. The two end sections are reserved for students, who turn their back when the visiting team is introduced.

Inside the seating bowl, there is a wide concourse that encircles the court, with the main concession
stand behind sections 2-4. Food here is limited and expensive for college hoops, although the Jamaican Beef Patty is your best bet at $3.50 if you are looking for something different.

The upper sections have a walkway cutting through them, with Row M the first in the topmost section. I sat here and had an unobstructed view of the proceedings (view below).

The attendance came in at just over 5,000, a surprisingly strong showing for a late weekday game. Compared to some of the smaller venues though, I found the energy to be somewhat muted as the crowd is more spaced out here. Having the game televised on CBS Sports didn't help, with way too many TV timeouts killing the flow. Overall though, Carnesecca deserves a pilgrimage from any college hoops fan; though the team has lost much of its past glory, its campus home is still a bright spot in the relatively mundane New York stadium scene.

The Game

This was similar to a great American political battle with the Red Storm taking on the Blue Demons. DePaul was 6-6 in conference including a home overtime win over St. John's (4-6) back in January. Interestingly, neither team wore its signature colour, with DePaul dressed in home white while St. John sported an alternate grey uniform.

The first half saw both teams start quickly as St. John's took a 20-18 lead into the second media timeout. Over the next three minutes though, neither club could make a basket and the frantic pace slowed. The Red Storm scored the only 5 points between the two timeouts and built a 30-21 lead before the officials got involved. One called a ridiculously late foul on St. John's, leading Felix Balamou (#10 below) to say something untoward for which he was given a technical. DePaul sank all four free throws and used the momentum shift to pull within 36-33 at halftime.

The second half saw St. John's regain their advantage and when D'Angelo Harrison (#11 below) sank back-to-back threes, the Red Storm had a 57-44 lead with just under 14 minutes left. Yet again though, they let their temper get the best of them. After DePaul scored five quick points, Harrison was busted for another technical, strangely called after DePaul's had committed a foul. The Blue Demons made the free throws and again St. John's seemed to lose their focus, allowing the Blue Demons to climb all the way back, knotting the game at 62.

Lavin didn't call timeout though, and his charges responded with a jumper from Sir'Dominic Pointer (a great basketball name) and a layup from Phil Greene IV (confusingly a senior). After a couple more timeouts, the team's traded treys before DePaul went cold, missing three shots and turning the ball over twice as St. John's went on a 9-0 run to make it 78-67. The Blue Demons would get no closer than six as the home team escaped with the win, 86-78. Harrison was on fire, sinking 10 of 14 (including 6/8 from three territory) for 33 points and adding 10 boards, an assist, a steal, and a block, playing in all 40 minutes. In fact, the St. John's starters played 182 of 200 possible minutes, a stat you rarely see these days in substitution-happy college hoops.


Felipe Lopez, who played a few seasons for the Vancouver Grizzlies, was honoured during a break in the action and presented with his diploma, which he had earned back in 1998. I wish I had known this in advance, I would have worn my 20-year-old Grizzly t-shirt.

Next Up

Wagner basketball on Staten Island on Thursday, then Canucks at Devils on Friday, followed by a weekend with many options, including Bridgeport (Fairfield basketball Saturday and Sound Tiger hockey Sunday) or perhaps a trip to Long Island to see Stony Brook and Hofstra. Check back regularly as my sports road trips are starting up again!



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