New York – Bring two of the premiere college basketball programs to New York City, Duke and UConn and put them on the floor at Madison Square Garden. At the end of November it looks almost like April and the last two standing at the NCAA Men’s Championship. LSU and Arizona State, the other finalist tried to do their best to make it more interesting at the NIT- Tip Off this week.
Except the Garden was half full Wednesday evening, and again for the finals Friday afternoon, 13, 179, which in someway diminished the intensity of what is seen in April. Perhaps the Thanksgiving Day holiday had something to do with it. The faithful who came from Arizona and Louisiana, (LSU) took a four day holiday break and watched basketball in between.
Duke would defeat UConn 68-59 taking the championship Friday. When it comes to their fan base, Duke enjoys coming to the Garden with plenty of alumni residing in the vicinity of New York City. UConn is almost up the road in Storrs Connecticut and Madison Square Garden is familiar territory as a member of the Big East Conference.
So there they were the seventh ranked Duke Blue Devils and their storied history with Coach Mike Kryzewski in his 30th year. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun envisions his Huskies to make a second consecutive trip to the Final Four come April in Indianapolis. Two Hall of Fame coaches with over 800 career wins on opposite benches, a first for an NCAA Division 1 game.
“Duke physically handled us the physical presence,” said Calhoun. “Obviously the rebounding was in my opinion a major problem with the game.” His Huskies were manned off the boards, Duke got 25 offensive rebounds, and they failed to convert a three-point shot. Despite the disappointing outcome Calhoun thought his team did what they had to do.
“Duke played with a great deal of heart and toughness. I think we were better than we played. I think we have to respond when we get knocked inside a little bit. We have to do a better job,’ he said. It was the third time his Huskies have been in the Tip- Off where they have failed to come home with the title.
The predominant Huskie crowd at the Garden saw Duke go on a 16-6 run and lead by nine points at the half. After that, there was that typical talk from Calhoun to his players with hopes of getting back in the game. They would make a brief run of it in the second half, but in the end it was all Duke (6-0), and showing this early in the college basketball season that they could be the team returning to the Final Four.
“Open shots were hard to come by,” commented Krzyzewski. “We haven’t experienced a team like that this year. We missed 53 shots and got 56 rebounds. We didn’t give up a three today. We played against two different types of teams and two teams that I think are going to be in contention in their conference,” said Kryzewski who got win 839 of his career as Duke won their fourth overall Tip-Off championship led by tournament Most Valuable Player Scheyer who scored 19 points. Duke has now won five straight at the Garden and 12 of their last 13 at the famous arena. Wednesday evening the Blue Devils defeated Arizona State 64-53 to reach the championship game.
Earlier, Arizona State (5-1) took third place in the consolation game with a 71-52 win over LSU. It was a second half effort by the Sun Devils who forced the Tigers (3-2) to miss 15 of their first 17 shots opening the second half. Derek Glasser scored a career high 24 points for the Devils and Eric Boateng added 17.
“We had a very good defensive effort in the second half,” commented Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek. He added, “At the same time, with that type of run to occur they missed some shots that in the first half they were knocking down. We were much better in the second half and our defense allowed us to get in the game and get the win.”
This was the first time Arizona State has participated in the NIT Tip- Off and the coach strongly believes the tough competition this early in the season will only help. “We tried to participate in an event like this every year,’ he said. “It’s always extra special coming to New York and playing at the Garden.”
It’s a wonderful experience for a team. And I think anytime you play against outstanding competition like we did this week there is always a lot there to learn. And so we’ll continue to watch the tapes and take all these experiences and try to build on them,”
The senior Glasser who earned Pac-10 Al Tournament honors, by averaging 13.7 points in the first three games of the season said “I think overall it was a good experience for us. Especially to play a team like Duke. Just to see where we are as a team.”
e-mail Rich Mancuso: [email protected]