SJU's Sampson goes undrafted

June, 27, 2014
Jun 27
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Former St. John's forward Jakarr Sampson did not hear his name called Thursday night at the NBA draft.

Sampson elected to leave school after just two years, despite an underwhelming sophomore season. He worked out for several NBA teams in recent weeks but was not among the 60 players selected.

ESPN.com draft expert Chad Ford rated Sampson as the 83rd-best player available going into the draft.

Sampson was named Big East Rookie of the Year following the 2012-13 season, averaging 14.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game as a freshman. His averages slipped to 12.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a sophomore.

St. John's announced following the draft that Sampson has accepted an invitation to join the Philadelphia 76ers' summer league team.

Duke headlines Coaches vs. Cancer in BK

June, 26, 2014
Jun 26
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The matchups for the 2014 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at the Barclays Center have been announced, with Duke serving as the main attraction.

Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils will play Temple on Friday, Nov. 21, following a matchup between Stanford and UNLV at 7 p.m. The winners will square off in the championship game the following evening.

Tickets are available now via Ticketmaster and the Barclays Center.

Pelle hungry for a shot at the NBA

June, 19, 2014
Jun 19
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Norvel Pelle is humbled, hungry and ready for an opportunity to show the NBA what he can do.

Pelle, a former St. John’s recruit, spent last season in the D-League and, after a strong late-season push, has his sights set on the NBA draft next week.

“The D-League route helped -- matured me, humbled me and made me a better person,” Pelle said earlier this month at B.J. Bass’ prospect showcase in Brooklyn. “I just want to continue to develop, continue to get stronger and learn the game on and off the court.”

[+] EnlargePelle
Tim Cattera/NBAE/Getty ImagesNorvel Pelle has the type of length that will make him attractive to NBA teams.
Pelle was one of the highest-rated prospects coming out of high school in 2011. He committed to play to St. John’s and then Iona but there were academic issues that prevented him from taking the court.

So he spent last season in the D-League with the Delaware 87ers, playing sparingly early on. But Pelle came on late in the season once he received significant minutes. Pelle averaged just 5.5 points on 51 percent shooting in 13 minutes per game on the season. But his per 36 stats were impressive -- 15.3 points and 8.3 rebounds per 36 minutes -- an indication that he can produce if given the playing time.

At 6-foot-10 and 210 pounds (with a 7-3 wingspan), Pelle is sure to draw attention from NBA front offices. They will have to project his potential as a rebounder, shot-blocker and jump-shooter.

“He’s a kid who has a lot of talent with his size and his skill set, he’s a kid who has the potential, and is still learning but he’s got to realize that when you come into the D-league or professional [league] you’re playing against men,” said scout Ryan Blake.

Pelle, who has worked out in front of several teams, including the 76ers and Raptors, has added 15 pounds recently. He knows that he has to continue to build his frame to compete in the NBA. That shouldn't be a problem. Pelle knows that his experience -- going from a highly-touted prep player to spending a year in the D-League -- will help motivate him in the coming days, weeks and months.

“It definitely humbled me to make me realize that regardless of the talent level, you still have to be hungry to go get it,” Pelle said of his experience in the D-League. “So being on the back burner is actually a good thing for me because it humbles me now and makes me want to work even harder ... I’ve got mouths to feed. I’ve got to take care of my mother and family. So it’s definitely making me more hungry to go get it.”

Keith Thomas commits to St. John's

May, 5, 2014
May 5
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St. John's is adding another frontcourt player to the fold for next season.

Keith Thomas, a juco forward from nearby Westchester Community College, has committed to play for the Red Storm.

Thomas averaged 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game this past season and gives coach Steve Lavin some much-needed depth in the frontcourt.

Another piece of good news for St. John's? The Red Storm will resume their nonconference series with Duke next season, hosting the Blue Devils at Madison Square Garden. The date has yet to be announced.

D'Angelo Harrison wins Haggerty Award

April, 22, 2014
Apr 22
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NEW YORK -- St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison is this year's winner of the Haggerty Award, given to the best Division I men's basketball player in the New York metropolitan area, as voted by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers Association.

The 6-foot-4 junior averaged 17.5 points per game in 2013-14, ranking him fourth in the Big East. He's the 25th St. John's player to win the award, but the first since Marcus Hatten in 2002.

Manhattan's Steve Masiello was named Coach of the Year, for the second time, and Fordham guard Jon Severe was named Rookie of the Year.

The All-Met first team, besides Harrison, includes Iona's Sean Armand, Manhattan's George Beamon, LIU Brooklyn's Jason Brickman, Seton Hall's Fuquan Edwin and Stony Brook's Jameel Warney.

The second team features Iona's A.J. English, Manhattan's Rhamel Brown, St. John's JaKarr Sampson, Army's Kyle Wilson, Columbia's Alex Rosenberg and Fordham's Branden Frazier.

The third team features Iona's David Laury, Rutgers' Kadeem Jack and Myles Mack, Fairleigh Dickinson's Sidney Sanders Jr., Hofstra's Zeke Upshaw and Seton Hall's Eugene Teague.

St. John's reels in Adonis Delarosa

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
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Adonis Delarosa, the 6-foot-10 senior center from Christ the King High School in Queens, verbally committed to St. John's on Wednesday.

Delarosa averaged 12 points and 12 rebounds per game for a Christ the King team that won the state federation championship. MSG placed him on its All-New York City second team. ESPN ranked him the 14th-best high school senior in the state.

"He's a space-eating five-man who is very intriguing because of how he can impact the game but needs to commit himself to getting into game shape before he can be a factor at the next level," is the conclusion of his ESPN Recruiting Nation profile. (Click here to read more.)

St. John's desperately needed to add a frontcourt player after the early departures of JaKarr Sampson and Chris Obekpa and the graduation of Orlando Sanchez and God'sgift Achiuwa. The only other post player currently on the roster is 6-foot-7 forward Christian Jones, who averaged 2.5 points per game two years ago as a freshman and redshirted this past season.

Delarosa is the first recruit to commit to St. John's for next season. Coach Steve Lavin has several more scholarships available.

Another target is 6-foot-7 forward Keith Thomas of Westchester Community College, who averaged 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season at the juco level.
video
NEW YORK -- Imagine being in just your second year in your chosen profession, and having the chance to compete against one of the very best to ever do the job.

That was Richard Pitino's opportunity on Thursday at Madison Square Garden. And, even better, he came out on top.

In just his second year as a head coach, Pitino guided his Minnesota Golden Gophers to the 2014 NIT championship, defeating Larry Brown's Southern Methodist Mustangs 65-63.

“Obviously extremely happy for our guys to win a championship,” Pitino said. “I’m really, really happy for them that they get to walk off [the] Madison Square Garden court as winners.”

[+] EnlargeRichard Pitino,  Rick Pitino
AP Photo/Frank Franklin II"It meant a lot - not just my dad, but my whole family [being here]," Pitino said after Thursday's NIT triumph. "This is hopefully just the beginning for me."
It was a highly entertaining game, featuring two of the NIT’s four No. 1 seeds. There were 14 ties and 17 lead changes, and neither team led by more than seven.

We saw good performances from several players. Austin Hollins scored 19 for Minnesota, including a huge 3-pointer in the final minute. Nic Moore had 17 points and seven assists for SMU.

But the real stars were the coaches: Brown, the 73-year-old inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, and Pitino, the 31-year-old son of Rick Pitino, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame just seven months ago.

And the game came down to a coaching decision, in effect. With Minnesota leading 65-62 and 4.8 seconds left, SMU had the ball with a chance to tie. Pitino wouldn’t let that happen. He instructed his team to foul before an SMU player had a chance to attempt a game-tying 3-pointer.

Instead, the Mustangs' Nick Russell missed his first free throw (when he was trying to make it), and made his second (when he was trying to miss it), and Minnesota was able to run out the clock from there.

“Got to give a lot of credit to Richard and his team,” Brown said. “They were really well prepared. Got down seven and I thought he got their kids to dig in.”

Brown is the only coach ever to win both an NCAA championship and an NBA title. But it is Pitino, not Brown, who now has an NIT championship on his résumé.

It would have been a mere footnote in terms of Brown’s legacy. But it’s a significant step for Pitino, given this was his first year at Minnesota, following one year as head coach at Florida International.

Throw in the fact that his father and mother and several other family members were sitting right behind the Minnesota bench, and it’s a memory he will surely treasure.

And not just him.

“I almost feel like crying, I’m so elated with joy,” the elder Pitino said, amid the on-court celebration.

“It meant a lot -- not just my dad, but my whole family [being here],” Richard Pitino said. “This is hopefully just the beginning for me.”

After the Golden Gophers finished cutting down the net, the players and coaches did not immediately head back to the locker room. Instead, Pitino gathered everyone together for one final huddle.

Later, Pitino was asked why he did it, and what he said.

“I just thought for our seniors ... [there’s] something special about walking off the court a winner and ending your career that way,” he said. “[And] I told the guys coming back, I’m so fired up to get back to work.”

The truth is, he was already back to work, mere minutes after this season had ended.

Here’s guessing this won’t be the last net he cuts down.

W2W4: SMU vs. Minnesota

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
12:40
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Here's what to watch for when Southern Methodist (27-9, 12-6 AAC) plays Minnesota (24-13, 8-10 Big Ten) on Thursday in the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m., and you can watch the game on ESPN.

ONE FOR THE AGES ... The two head coaches are the star attractions in this matchup. It'll be the oldest coach in Division I, Hall of Famer Larry Brown of SMU, versus one of the youngest coaches in Div. I, Richard Pitino of Minnesota -- the son of Hall of Famer Rick Pitino.

Brown is 73 years old, although he certainly doesn't look it. Pitino is 31, and looks every bit of it and no more.

Both have New York roots. Brown was born in Brooklyn and returned to New York to coach the Knicks in 2005-06. Pitino spent part of his youth in New York -- his father coached the Knicks from 1987-89. The elder Pitino attended the semifinals Tuesday and almost certainly will be sitting behind the Minnesota bench again Thursday.

AS FOR THE PLAYERS ... It's a pretty even matchup -- these are two of the four No. 1 seeds in this tournament. SMU overcame a 13-point, second-half deficit to defeat Clemson 65-59 in Tuesday's first semifinal. Minnesota survived a second-half comeback to beat Florida State 67-64 in overtime in the second semifinal.

You should see strong guard play in this game. SMU's leading scorer is sophomore point man Nic Moore (13.5 ppg, 4.8 apg). Minnesota has three guards who average in double figures -- junior Andre Hollins (13.6 ppg, 3.5 rpg), senior Austin Hollins (12.2 ppg, 5.1 rpg) and junior DeAndre Mathieu (12 ppg, 4.1 apg).

But the X-factor is SMU sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.4 ppg, 7 rpg). A transfer from Villanova, Kennedy was dominant in the semifinals, with 21 points and nine rebounds against Clemson. Minnesota must try to limit his touches inside.

SPEAKING OF DEFENSE ... SMU is one of the best defensive teams in the country, ranked seventh in Division I in defensive field goal percentage (38.3). Minnesota isn't as good but is still ranked among the top third of Div. I teams in that category, currently 112th (42.4).

That being said, both teams can create havoc on that end. SMU was 42nd in steals per game in the regular season (7.5), and Minnesota was close behind at 45th (7.4).

You'll probably see some full-court pressure, particularly from Minnesota. Taking care of the ball will be critical in this game.

Larry Brown leads SMU to NIT final

April, 2, 2014
Apr 2
1:27
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NEW YORK -- Larry Brown went 23-59 in his one season coaching the New York Knicks.

Things are going a lot better at Southern Methodist.

The Mustangs have now won 27 games this season -- one off the school record -- in only Brown’s second year at the helm. And their latest victory came in a place he knows well: Madison Square Garden.

[+] EnlargeLarry Brown
AP Photo/Sharon EllmanFormer Knicks coach Larry Brown led SMU to the NIT finals.
SMU trailed by 13 early in the second half Tuesday, and didn’t take its first lead until just more than five minutes remained. But once Brown’s crew had the lead, they never relinquished it, beating Clemson 65-59 to advance to the NIT championship game.

“I’m really proud of my team,” Brown said. “I think the first half, Clemson did about as well as any team that we played against. They controlled the tempo, they had much more energy than us, they executed great. And we didn’t have much to say at halftime, except we had to match their energy and possibly play harder than them. I thought it was the best half we played all year.”

It was indeed a tale of two halves. Clemson led 38-26 at the break, thanks to 56 percent shooting from the field. That included making 6-of-9 from beyond the 3-point arc, against an SMU team ranked seventh in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage.

The Mustangs picked up the intensity in the second half. And the Tigers shot just 6-for-25 overall and 2-for-11 from long range.

“We just did what we usually do,” SMU forward Sterling Brown said. “We just turned it up a little more.”

Fellow forward Markus Kennedy was the player of the game, with 21 points and nine rebounds. Point guard Nic Moore chipped in 13 points, five rebounds and four assists for the Mustangs, who will play Minnesota in the title game Thursday.

The 73-year-old Brown has nothing to prove. He remains the only coach to win both an NCAA championship and an NBA title, and already has the Basketball Hall of Fame on his résumé. But he has done a remarkable job rejuvenating SMU in short order.

The Mustangs have not made the NCAA tournament since 1993, but just missed this year, the first team left out of the field.

Instead, SMU was awarded one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT. And four wins later, it has reached the final.

“We haven’t had a lot of nice things happen at SMU for a long, long time,” Brown said. “To be in this environment, playing in this championship in this special building, with our fans so supportive, that’s the most special moment we’ve all had I think since we’ve been there.”

Brown’s brief stint with the Knicks was eight years ago now. But with the Brooklyn native back in town, he was asked to share some memories after the game.

“I love this place,” Brown said. “I’m not happy with the job I did with the Knicks, but I grew up loving the Knicks and loving the Garden, and I wanted our guys to experience [it].”

He was also asked about current Knicks coach Mike Woodson, a former assistant and close friend. Woodson was at the game Tuesday, sitting behind the SMU bench.

“I talk to him every day. He’s a big part of my life,” Brown said. “He’s gone through hell, and they got it going. Last I looked they’re right there with a chance to make the playoffs, and I’m thrilled for him.”

As it happens, the Knicks will host the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday at the Garden, in between the NIT semifinals and title game. And it sounds like the former Knicks coach may attend.

“I don’t know if they’ll let me in the Garden tomorrow night,” Brown said, chuckling. “I’ve got a night off. I don’t know -- I’ll either go see Les Mis or the Knicks.”

Whatever Brown decides to do Wednesday, he’ll be back here one night later, with a chance to add another championship to his collection.

W2W4: The NIT semifinals

April, 1, 2014
Apr 1
12:38
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Larry BrownAndy Lyons/Getty ImagesLarry Brown returns to the Garden for the NIT semifinals.
NEW YORK -- Here's what to watch for in Tuesday's semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. ET, and you can watch the games on ESPN2.

HOME SWEET HOME: Brooklyn native and former Knicks coach Larry Brown returns to the Garden and should receive a warm welcome.

The 73-year-old Hall of Famer has rejuvenated the Southern Methodist basketball program in just two years at the helm. The Mustangs were 13-19 in 2011-12, prior to Brown's arrival. This season they have won 26 games, the second-most in school history.

SMU was the first team left out of the NCAA tournament field, and received one of four No. 1 seeds in the NIT.

When asked last week about returning to New York, Brown said, “I don’t look at it like that, for me. For me, for our kids to have an opportunity to keep playing is great.

"I’m happy for our team, I’m thrilled for our program. After the disappointment we had [Selection Sunday], this is a privilege to still be playing.”

GAME 1: SMU (26-9, 12-6 AAC) will play No. 3 seed Clemson (23-12, 10-8 ACC) in the first semifinal. The Mustangs finished tied for third in the American Athletic Conference with Final Four participant UConn, and beat the Huskies twice in the regular season. The Tigers, in their fourth year under coach Brad Brownell, finished sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their best win of the season was a 72-59 triumph over Duke at home on Jan. 11.

Two players average in double figures for SMU -- sophomore point guard Nic Moore (13.5 PPG, 4.9 APG) and sophomore forward Markus Kennedy (12.2 PPG, 7.0 RPG). Clemson has just one double-figure scorer -- junior forward K.J. McDaniels (17.2 PPG, 7.1 RPG). McDaniels was also the leading shot-blocker in the ACC (2.8 BPG).

The Mustangs are 18th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (48.4), and seventh in defensive field goal percentage (38.2) -- quite a combination! The Tigers aren't nearly as good offensively, ranking 265th (42.4). But they are almost as good defensively, ranking 14th (39.3).

GAME 2: A pair of No. 1 seeds, Minnesota (23-13, 8-10 Big Ten) and Florida State (22-13, 9-9 ACC), will meet in the second semifinal, tipping off at approximately 9:30 p.m. ET. The Golden Gophers, in their first year under coach Richard Pitino (Rick's son), finished seventh in the Big Ten. The Seminoles, in their 12th year under coach Leonard Hamilton, finished tied for seventh in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

These two teams met back on Dec. 3 in Minneapolis, with Minnesota winning 71-61. But the Golden Gophers' leading rebounder, junior center Elliott Eliason (5.1 PPG, 6.7 RPG), is likely out for this game due to an ankle injury, as reported by the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Three players average in double figures for Minnesota -- junior guard Andre Hollins (13.6 PPG, 3.5 RPG), senior guard Austin Hollins (12.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG) and junior guard DeAndre Mathieu (11.8 PPG, 4.1 APG).

Three players average in double figures for Florida State, as well -- sophomore guard Aaron Thomas (14.8 PPG, 4.2 RPG), senior guard Ian Miller (13.7 PPG, 2.9 APG) and senior forward Okaro White (13.5 PPG, 6.6 RPG).

The Seminoles also stack up very well on both sides, ranking 49th in Division I in offensive field goal percentage (46.8) and 25th in defensive field goal percentage (39.9). The Golden Gophers trail significantly in both categories, ranking 142nd offensively (44.8) and 116th defensively (42.5).

For UConn's Giffey, a bad day turns great

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
12:09
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NEW YORK -- Shabazz Napier isn’t the only Connecticut player going to a second Final Four.

Fellow seniors Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander were also on the 2011 national championship team, and can now boast of being a part of two historic Huskies squads.

“It’s unbelievable,” Giffey said, standing in the center of the UConn locker room following its 60-54 victory over Michigan State. “I don’t even know what to say.”

The soft-spoken Giffey had plenty to say though, when he wasn’t smiling or celebrating with teammates -- even though he had just played one of his worst games of the season.

“I think it’s just a maturity process you have to go through,” Giffey said. “At this point it really doesn’t matter who scores and how you score.”

[+] EnlargeNiels Giffey
Brad Horrigan/Hartford Courant/MCT/Getty ImagesNiels Giffey finished with six points in 35 minutes on Sunday.
Olander was a bit player this season, but Giffey has been a sometime-starter and key contributor, fourth on the team in scoring at 8.3 points per game.

Giffey shoots 56.1 percent from the field and 51.4 percent from behind the 3-point line, making it all the more stunning that he was 2-for-10 overall and 0-for-5 from deep against the Spartans.

He missed five of his six shots in the first half, and the only one he made in the second half was a dunk. Most were wide-open looks.

“You just gotta keep a clear head, try to not think about your shot too much,” Giffey said. “Keep yourself level, don’t get too emotional, don’t get too negative with yourself.

“Those are the shots my team wants me to take. Even when I got a little frustrated, all the guys came over [and said] keep shooting, keep shooting. That’s just my job on this team.”

Case in point: With less than three minutes remaining and UConn clinging to a 51-49 lead, Giffey unleashed a shot from beyond the arc. He was open, but there were still 20 seconds on the shot clock -- plenty of time to get a better look by a hotter player. And he missed.

But at the next stoppage of play, following a Michigan State turnover, we saw Napier and fellow teammate Ryan Boatright standing in front of Giffey, patting him on the chest and encouraging him.

That kind of thing doesn't happen on a lot of teams, folks.

“I’m missing shot after shot after shot, and he still goes to me,” Giffey said of Napier. “He believes in me, probably even more than I believe in myself.”

Giffey’s teammates picked him up, in more ways than one, and now he doesn’t have to end his college career on one of his worst games.

Instead, he’ll play in his second Final Four -- not bad for a lightly recruited kid from Germany who had few Division I scholarship offers.

“Four months before I committed here I didn’t even know what UConn was and where Connecticut was,” Giffey said.

Now he is a part of school history.

For UConn, return to Garden is extra sweet

March, 27, 2014
Mar 27
6:55
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NEW YORK -- They call the NCAA tournament the Big Dance, and the Connecticut Huskies danced their way onto the Madison Square Garden floor Thursday.

It was a brand-new floor -- the NCAA installs its own court at each tournament site -- but everything else looked familiar to the Huskies, who played here twice earlier this season and 13 times in the past four years.

No wonder No. 7 seed UConn looked so comfortable as it prepared for its noon 50-minute open practice, with several players shimmying on the sidelines before the team was introduced.

[+] EnlargeShabazz Napier
Joe Murphy/Getty ImagesShabazz Napier and the Huskies believe they will have a home-court advantage Friday versus Iowa State.
“I told the guys, this came full circle,” Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie said. “I know we came down here and played in the 2K Classic and won that Classic. But to come down here this time, and our guys not able to play in the last Big East tournament that was here last year, it’s all full circle.”

It’s UConn’s 17th trip to the Sweet 16, but this one is extra special. The Huskies were banned from the NCAA tournament last season because of poor academic performance and ruled ineligible for the Big East tournament as well.

It’s also extra special because these will be the first NCAA tournament games at Madison Square Garden since 1961.

Star guard Shabazz Napier, one of several Huskies who elected to stay at UConn despite the postseason ban, admitted Thursday he couldn’t bring himself to watch a single game of the 2013 tourney.

A huge fishing fan, Napier consoled himself by watching shows such as "River Monsters" on Animal Planet instead. “I didn’t want to watch [the tournament] because I felt like if I did, I would be aggravated or annoyed,” he said.

Napier has been one of the best shows in college basketball this season. A likely first-team All-American, the 6-foot-1 senior leads Connecticut in scoring (17.8 PPG), rebounding (5.9 RPG), assists (4.9 APG) and steals (1.8 SPG), and he has a penchant for making plays when it counts.

He hit a game-winning buzzer-beater against Florida in early December, scored nine of his 24 points in overtime in UConn’s win over No. 10 seed St. Joseph’s to open this tournament, and followed that up with 25 points in a victory over second-seeded Villanova two days later.

Napier also scored 20 and 27 points in the Huskies' 2K Classic wins over Boston College and Indiana here back in November, and he believes his team has a definite advantage Friday night against No. 3 seed Iowa State, despite being the lower seed.

“The thing that would help us is our great fan base coming down and supporting us, like they always do,” Napier said. “When we are down and when we’re up, they are still cheering. They give us the support, they give us that sixth man that we need to push us forward.”

Teammate Ryan Boatright believes UConn’s familiarity with the Garden will be a big plus, too.

“It just feels like a second home to us,” Boatright said. “If you’ve never played here before, it’s definitely a different feeling -- the background, the rims ... the whole crowd is dark, just the court is lit up. Everything is different than playing in a regular college stadium.”

It is expected to be a heavily pro-Huskies crowd, with the Connecticut campus just 135 miles away. UConn has always drawn well at the Garden, making this historic ticket even hotter than it already would have been.

The Metro-North commuter railroad is adding an extra express train from New Haven, Conn., to Grand Central Terminal on Friday afternoon, and extra cars to other trains departing New Haven for New York as well (and vice versa at the end of the night).

As of late Thursday afternoon, the cheapest single ticket available on StubHub for Friday’s regional semifinal doubleheader (also featuring Virginia versus Michigan State) was $594.05 -- for a bar-stool seat no less.

Ollie and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, good friends and former teammates with the Chicago Bulls, have both played at the Garden many times.

“It’s special. I can’t say it’s not,” said Ollie, who later called it “the greatest arena alive for basketball.”

The Garden was the first thing Hoiberg brought up in his pregame news conference.

“I’ll start out just by saying how excited our team is to be out here in New York City,” he said. “Our guys get the opportunity to play at Madison Square Garden. I’ll never forget my first time here when the announcer comes on and says, ‘Welcome to Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena.’”

Iowa State is used to playing in front of large crowds -- the Cyclones were ranked No. 22 in Division I home attendance this season, averaging 13,393 fans per game. But Ames, Iowa, is more than 1,000 miles away, and the Cyclones have played at the Garden only three times in school history, the last being an 84-81 loss to Rutgers in the semifinals of the 2004 NIT.

Heck, Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue, a native of nearby Yonkers, N.Y., had never even set foot in the Garden before Thursday’s open practice.

Hoiberg admitted some concern. “To come out and experience this is just awesome for our guys,” he said. “[But] you try to get the ‘wow’ factor out of the way as quickly as possible, so they can focus on the task at hand.”

The Cyclones did look a little more like tourists than the Huskies did when they walked on the floor two hours later. Hogue asked someone to take a picture of him at center court. Reserve forward Daniel Edozie pointed up at the giant overhead scoreboard in apparent glee.

But Hoiberg sounded confident that come Friday night, his team will be good to go.

“That’s been my message to them -- enjoy this day, in a very casual setting to go out there and get used to the shooting background and the rims,” he said. “Then tomorrow it’s all about business.

“Once that thing goes up tomorrow at 7:27, our guys will be ready to play.”

Max Hooper leaving St. John's

March, 26, 2014
Mar 26
7:54
PM ET
NEW YORK -- St. John's swingman Max Hooper has been given permission to explore transfer opportunities, the school announced Wednesday.

Hooper averaged 3.2 points in 9.0 minutes per game in 2013-14, his first season with the Red Storm after transferring from Harvard.

A 3-point specialist, Hooper got significant playing time early in the season, but had trouble on the defensive end. He hardly played down the stretch -- just 15 minutes total in the final nine games of the regular season.

Ironically, Hooper scored a season-high 18 points in his final game at St. John's, in an 89-78 loss to Robert Morris in the first round of the NIT.

Hooper is the second player to leave the St. John's program in the past week. Sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson, the team's second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, announced Monday that he was leaving school and entering the NBA draft.

Rapid Reax: Louisville 71, Manhattan 64

March, 21, 2014
Mar 21
1:30
AM ET


Some quick thoughts on No. 4 seed Louisville's 71-64 win over No. 13 seed Manhattan on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament:

What it means: The defending national champs are lucky to be alive.

Manhattan nearly pulled off a shocking upset Thursday night in Orlando, Fla. The Cardinals were one of the hottest teams in the country and a trendy pick to win it all for a second consecutive season. But the Jaspers had the lead with less than three minutes to go and nearly took them down in their first NCAA tournament game since 2004.

Steve Masiello, the latest Rick Pitino protege to guide a team to the Big Dance, made his March Madness debut against the man he calls "a second father" and surely did him proud.

[+] EnlargeMichael Alvarado, Chris Jones
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsManhattan's Michael Alvarado finished with 10 points Thursday against Louisville.
The turning point: Manhattan never led in the first half, but it never fell behind by double digits, either. Louisville took its biggest lead, 31-23, on a Montrezl Harrell jumper with 2:24 remaining, but the Jaspers were down only 35-29 at intermission. Michael Alvarado scored 10 first-half points for Manhattan. The Cardinals shot just 36.4 percent (12-for-33) but had 11 offensive rebounds and forced 10 turnovers.

The Jaspers scored the first eight points of the second half to take their first lead of the game, 37-35, on an Emmy Andujar layup with 16:24 to play. But Louisville quickly regained the lead. Manhattan surged in front again late and was up 60-58 on a Tyler Wilson lay-in with 2:35 left. But then Luke Hancock took over.

Hancock, the most outstanding player in last year's Final Four, hit two free throws with 1:53 remaining to put Louisville back on top, 62-60. He nailed a 3-pointer 32 seconds later to make it 65-60. And then he sank the dagger -- another trey with 27 seconds left, making it 68-62. The Cardinals finished the victory off at the foul line.

Star watch: Russ Smith had a game-high 18 points for Louisville, although he shot just 3-for-9 from the field. Hancock scored 16 points. Harrell finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds.

Masiello used 11 different players, and eight of them scored. It was a total team effort on Manhattan's part, and a valiant one. Ashton Pankey scored a team-high 16 points, and Andjuar added 13 off the bench. Leading scorer George Beamon scored just seven points, 12 under his average, shooting 3-for-10.

Number crunch: For the game, Louisville shot just 36.4 percent from the field (20-for-55) and 30.8 percent from beyond the arc (4-for-13). But the Cardinals were 27-for-35 from the foul line (77.1 percent), making 12 more free throws than Manhattan.

What's next: Louisville will play No. 5 seed St. Louis on Saturday. The Billikens made up a 16-point deficit to beat No. 12 seed NC State (in overtime) earlier Thursday night in Orlando.

The Jaspers head home to Riverdale, with their heads held high.

W2W4: Manhattan vs. Louisville

March, 20, 2014
Mar 20
1:31
PM ET
Here's what to watch for when No. 13 seed Manhattan (25-7, 15-5 MAAC) plays No. 4 seed Louisville (29-5, 15-3 AAC) on Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Tip-off is at approximately 9:50 p.m. ET, and you can watch the game on TNT or right here at March Madness Live.

STUDENT VS. TEACHER: In his first NCAA tournament as a head coach, Steve Masiello has to go up against his mentor, Rick Pitino, who Masiello calls "a second father." (Click here to read more.)

Pitino ripped the selection committee Wednesday for pitting these two schools, and coaches, against one another. Masiello isn't happy about it either. (Click here to read more.)

Regardless, there's obviously a lot at stake here, so both coaches will do everything in their power to win. The Cardinals are the defending national champions. The Jaspers are in the tournament for the first time in a decade, since 2004.

CARBON COPY: Masiello spent six years as an assistant to Pitino at Louisville, and employs the same style of play. Both teams are high-scoring, and hope to create havoc with full-court pressure defense.

The problem for the Jaspers is, the Cardinals are just better at doing it. Manhattan is 38th in the country in scoring (77.4 ppg), but Louisville is eighth (82.1). Manhattan is 16th in the country in steals (8.3 spg), but Louisville is second (10.1).

One area in which Manhattan's actually better is getting to the foul line -- the Jaspers are fourth in the country in free-throw attempts, and ninth in makes. But they're 283rd (out of 345 Division I schools) in free-throw percentage (66.2). If Manhattan can get to the foul line as often as it usually does, and has an unusually good day shooting free throws, that could be the recipe for an upset.

X-FACTORS: Manhattan has three players who average in double figures -- all seniors -- but leading scorer George Beamon must deliver if the Jaspers are going to have a chance.

Beamon, a 6-foot-4 swingman, averages 19.2 points per game. He is the team's best free-throw shooter (82.7 percent), and can also hit the 3-point shot (37.1 percent). Beamon scored a season-high 34 points in a game against fellow NCAA tournament squad George Washington back in November.

Louisville has four players who average in double figures, but all eyes will be on senior guard Russ Smith -- a Brooklyn native, and likely first-team All-American.

Smith averages a team-high 18.3 points per game. He's been awfully consistent this season, scoring in double digits in 32 of 34 games -- and the two exceptions were blowout victories in which he took a combined six shots. But there's always the chance "Russdiculous" will have an off night.

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