Florida Atlantic University guard Alijah Martin laughed a little when he was asked if he would be lobbying anyone at Madison Square Garden to hang a photo of his massive first-half dunk somewhere inside the arena.
The one-handed slam over Kansas State’s David N’Guessan was just one of the many moments over the course of the four days that college basketball took over The World’s Most Famous Arena and reminded everyone just how great the building can be. Even more, perhaps it was a peek at what’s to come there in the future with St. John’s basketball turning a corner now that Rick Pitino is running the program and even the New York Knicks appear to be chugging along to an NBA Playoffs appearance.
“Yeah, most definitely,” Martin said when asked if he had a greater appreciation for the building. “It was almost surreal, you know, the first time walking in here. We had practice and just looking up like, ‘Man, we in MSG.’ All the greats that had big performances. All the greats that came through here, you know, honestly, to share the same court as they did.”
Madison Square Garden has always had a special place in Basketball lore, from the countless Big East Tournament battles to NBA greats shining brightest on the grand stage that is New York. Markquis Nowell, the Harlem native who took center stage on Thursday night in Kansas State’s win over Michigan State, recalled watching Kemba Walker lead the UConn Huskies to a Big East title at MSG in 2011.
Nowell’s performance on Thursday night earned him the back pages of the New York Daily News and New York Post on Friday. While he lost in Saturday’s Elite Eight, Nowell relished the chance to play at MSG.
“I’m happy and grateful that I got the opportunity to play in Madison Square,” Nowell said. “I always dreamed of something like this, just playing here, being here, playing my heart out. I feel like I gave my heart and soul to this game for these past couple games.”
The Sweet 16 and Elite Eight game showed the passion and hunger that New York has for college basketball and the possibilities that await St. John’s next season if Pitino is true to his word and turns the program around. The new St. John’s head coach wants more games at Madison Square Garden — telling reporters he’d play all Big East games in Manhattan — the raucous crowds at the NCAA Tournament this past week are sure to add fuel to that desire.
The New York-born players on Michigan State, Kansas State and FAU raved about the experience. And Perhaps the NCAA would be wise to return to the Big Apple sooner rather than later for the tournament.
However, it should serve to motivate the Red Storm to want to create a similar atmosphere there next season.