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nyc college hoops road trip

NYC College Hoops Road Trip: Madison Square Garden

This is a frame from the alternate ending to Cloverfield.

Last night, our epic Tour of NYC Hoops continued with a trip to Madison Square Garden for a college-hoops doubleheader. We saw St. John's pull off a huge win over Cincinnati in the first game, and we saw a game effort by Fordham before succumbing to Dayton late. That's a lot of basketball, kids. A lot.

The St. John's 52–50 win was particularly inspirational: The Red Storm desperately needed a victory in the Big East, and they got to knock around alleged Brooklyn phenom Lance Stephenson in the process. (We were far from impressed by Stephenson.) And Fordham didn't embarrass itself too badly in a 74–58 loss and, in fact, even led in the second half at one point. Seriously. It was a fun night, but very long; it's strange to leave a college basketball game around midnight.

Anyway, we continue with our First Annual Best College Hoops Venue in NYC contest — remember, winner receives a printed-out version of the blog post, and two sticks of butter — with our rundown of the evening's venue. Let's go to it:

Venue: Madison Square Garden, Manhattan
Team: St. John's Red Storm
Ticket Price: $50 (for two games)

Facilities: Well, it's the Garden, one of the most classic venues in sport. So that's a tiny advantage over LIU's the WRAC (no offense, Blackbirds!). Also, a definite upside: A college sporting event in which beer was sold. Never hurts! Forget prices, forget ambiance. Put all that aside; you're at the Garden. That's always a good place to be. Score: 9/10.

Quality of Play: Obviously, the first game, featuring Big East teams, had better players than the second, with its Atlantic-10 teams, but it's worth noting that no single player blew us away. (Lance Stephenson was particularly underwhelming, we're sad to say.) The most talented team we saw was in fact Cincinnati, but man, the Bearcats look like their practices involve chucking up shots from half-court and Scrabble. Their collapse down the end was inevitable: This is a wretchedly coached team. As for the second game, Dayton didn't play particularly well, either, and Fordham kept it close with some pressure defense in the first half. Then, in the second half, with Fordham up by one, we bent down to get something out of our bag, and when we looked back up, Dayton was up by 14. We understand why Fordham might go winless in the conference this year. Grade: 6/10.

School Spirit: Perhaps this is by default, but the St. John's crowd was the most passionate we'd seen so far. They at least cared enough to boo Lance Stephenson early and often. And more so than bands, cheerleaders, and a mascot (both St. John's and Fordham have all three), that's what big-time college basketball is really all about: singling out an opposing player and making his life miserable. But most impressive was the sizable Dayton contingent. This is something unique to the Garden (at least among the local venues). Fans are willing to travel to see their school play here, be it for a mere conference game like this, or for a pre- or postseason tournament. Our biggest complaint of the night: The behind-the-hoop student sections were on the wrong side of the court. Everyone knows they should be behind the opponent's hoop in the second half for optimal free-throw distraction. That's not where they were. Score: 7/10.

Coziness: By definition, it's hard for an arena that seats 19,763 spectators to be considered cozy. It's even harder when only 7,040 of those seats are filled. The Garden did allow fans to move down to the lower levels after the first game, but even with Fordham offering all students free tickets, it felt like they were filming a movie and hired the bare minimum number of extras to make it appear on-camera as if real-live fans were in the building. Score: 2/10.

Miscellaneous: Unlike any of the on-campus venues we've visited (or will be visiting, for that matter), attending a game at the Garden isn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. For students, it's less convenient than walking over to the arena after class or stumbling out of your dorm room on a Saturday afternoon and deciding to catch a game. For non-students, you're looking at borderline-NBA prices for less-than-NBA quality. Yes, sometimes you get your money's worth with a six-overtime thriller in the Big East Tournament. But sometimes you get Fordham-Dayton on a Wednesday night in January. Score: 2/10

FINAL SCORE: 26. That's better than Long Island's and St. Francis's 22, but not dramatically so. We were happy that they let Fordham play at the Garden, but that probably shouldn't happen again, for a long time. Still: booze.

Next up: Saturday, February 13, George Washington at Fordham, Rose Hill Gym, the Bronx. See you there!

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Photo: Will Leitch