(Mike Lawrence/Sportsday Wire)
The 2015 version of the seven decade December college basketball event at Madison Square Garden was presented by the ECAC (Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) in partnership with the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden sponsored by Advanced Auto Parts on Sunday morning, December 5.
The doubleheader included favorite local teams, the St. John’s Red Storm (5-3) who faced the St. Francis College Terriers of Brooklyn (3-5) in the opener at 11 am and the Hofstra University Pride who faced Appalachian State University Mountaineers in the second game.
St. John’s, a Garden favorite for nearly 80 years, made its first appearance of the season at its second home. The game was its 700th at the “Mecca of Basketball” where the team has compiled a record of 418-282.
The Johnnies are also veterans of the Holiday Festival. Sunday marked the 49th year St. John’s has been a part of the very popular December hoops event. The victory over St. Francis by a score of 63-56 raised St. John’s mark at the Holiday Festival to 73-38. The team garnered 15 titles when the event was a multi-game tournament, 1952-2010.
Another historically important fact was that Chris Mullin, in his first year at the helm of his alma mater, coached the Red Storm to its 1,800th win. The team became only the ninth NCAA Division I team to reach this high plateau of success.
The venue is not an unfamiliar location to the neophyte college coach. Mullin, as a collegiate player, led St. John’s to an 18-6 mark at MSG. The wins included three Holiday festival titles, two of which Mullin was chosen the MVP and a Big East title in which Mullin also received the MVP Award.
After the game, the coach spoke of his feelings of returning to the Garden, “I love this place…always have. I think I enjoyed playing here more than coaching, but it was yet another new experience. For a 52 year old guy to have anew experienced like that, it’s pretty cool. Nice seeing Coach Carnesseca behind me, which was somewhat surreal, but it’s always special. Madison Square Garden, you talk to any player at any level, it’s always a place you want to play and have a good game.”
The Red Storm, selected to finish last in the preseason Big East poll, won its second game of the last five. The team Mullin now heads bears little relationship to last season’s NCAA Tournament entry. Only three of last year’s squad has returned. Most of last season’s production is missing, 98% of its assists, 96% of its points and 92% of its rebounds.
After the second and final tied score of the game, 12-12 at 11:33 of the first half, the Terriers, on an 11-2 run, took its largest lead of the contest, 23-14 at 6:43. St. John’s then followed with 19 unanswered points.
The Red Storm achieved its largest margin, 53-40, in the second half with 8:35 left to play, but a 15-4 drive by the Terriers cut the margin to a single basket, 57-55 with 1:04 remaining. Chris Hooper of St. Francis explained, “Even though they had a run, we didn’t give up.”
The lead was protected by a jump shot by Durand Johnson with 32 seconds on the clock. The transfer form Pittsburgh commented, “I took that shot with a lot of confidence.”
St. John’s returns to Carnesecca Arena to hot Niagara on Wednesday and St. Francis returns home to Brooklyn on Thursday night to face NJIT.