HBCUs center stage at the Garden
It is not everyday that basketball teams from Historically Black Colleges and Universities are brought to New York City and given the opportunity to battle it out on the court of world-famous Madison Square Garden.
But for Bowie State, Virginia Union, Howard and Hampton Universities, that was very much the reality Saturday afternoon.
The four were the participants in the first Big Apple Classic which matched up CIAA rivals BSU and VUU in a 1 p.m. opener and MEAC contenders Howard and Hampton in a 3 p.m. contest that drew 6,609 fans to "The Garden."
And the results could not have been more dissimilar.
Virginia Union, the three-time defending CIAA Tournament champion, had a surprisingly easy time disposing of Bowie State, perhaps its chief conference rival over the last several years, in a lopsided 87-42 decision. Howard meantime, looking for respect coming off a 7-22 2005 finish, knocked off defending MEAC Tournament champ Hampton, 95-84, in a competitive finale.
Kenneth Johnson of Johnson Marketing Inc. out of Richmond, Va., reportedly sealed a multi-year contract with MSG's president and chief operating officer, Steve Mills, to host the annual basketball classic in an effort to expose black colleges in a major arena of sports. The plan worked.
For the coaches and the players, having the chance to play at the Garden was an experience they will never forget. Nevertheless, that's exactly what BSU head coach Luke D'Alessio would like to do.
"I don't care where you play Virginia Union, you always have to play with intensity or they'll bury you," said D'Alessio, who said nerves from playing on the big stage may have had something to do with his team's poor effort. "We just didn't show up today. They are such a bitter rival that you can't let them outwork you."
Dave Robbins' Panthers indeed did all the work, going on top with an early 16-2 run and leading 48-25 at the break. Greg Thondique led VUU with 19 points and ten rebounds. Steve Miller had 16 points including sinking four-of-five from behind the arc.
"Coming here to the Garden for the first time, I'm sure is something my players will remember for the rest of their lives," said Robbins.
The Howard/Hampton game had a whole different level of competitiveness. The game was tied at 41 at the half before Howard pulled away and, with some clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch, kept the Pirates at bay. Hampton was playing its fourth game in seven days.
Eugene Myatt scored 18 of his game-high 22 points after halftime and Will Gant had 13 of his 15 after intermission to pace the Bison. They combined to hit 15 of 16 second-half free throws. Demarrio Mattox had 19 and Mike Freeman 15 to pace Hampton.
"This was a big win for the Howard basketball program," said elated Howard coach Gil Jackson. "To come to Madison Square Garden and play on this stage and to get a victory against one of the quality athletic programs in our conference means a lot to this program."
New Hampton head coach Kevin Nickelberry, whose young team battled gamely despite its fatigue, blamed himself.
"We were exhausted," said Nickelberry. "We got into some foul trouble and I made some terrible calls tonight. Madison Square Garden and the hype added to it."
© 2006 Azeez Communications, Inc.