(Jim Valvano on the screen at Madison Square Garden before the doubleheader on Tuesday night – Photo by Jason Schott)
One of the best early season tournaments to open the college basketball season, the Jimmy V Classic, was on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
The evening is in honor of legendary coach and Queens native Jim Valvano, who coached at Iona and, most memorably, led North Carolina State to an improbable national title in 1983.
After his career, Valvano was a broadcaster at ESPN and ABC for a few seasons, working with Dick Vitale and John Saunders.
Valvano is remembered for the inspirational and memorable speech he gave in 1993 at the ESPY Awards, telling listeners to laugh, think, and cry each day, saying “don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” That speech was run at The Garden before the doubleheader Tuesday night. He gave the speech less than two months before his death from adenocarcinoma, a type of many glandular cancers. He was just 47 years old.
The Jimmy V Classic is held in tribute to him, and in support of cancer victims and survivors, raising money for the V Foundation for Cancer Research (jimmyv.org).
Villanova 88, Gonzaga 72
This was a big matchup to start off the night, as Villanova won the national championship in 2016 and Gonzaga was last season’s runner-up, losing to North Carolina in the title game.
This game started off even, as they were tied at 17 midway through the first half.
From there, Villanova went on an 11-0 run and then an elongated 15-3 run capped by a Phil Booth layup that made it 32-20 at the 4:20 mark of the first half.
The Villanova lead ballooned to 17, at 41-24, on a Donte DiVincenzo three at the 2:30 mark, and they took a 43-30 lead into the half.
In the second half, ‘Nova maintained a 10-point edge, and the highlight was a Mikal Bridges dunk in which he started his leap halfway down the lane at the 8:10 mark to make it 66-51. They led by as many as 19, 86-67, with a couple minutes left, on their way to an 88-72 win.
Villanova, who improved to 9-0, was led by Bridges, who had 28 points on 8-14 from the field, 5-9 on threes, six rebounds, and two blocks.
Phil Booth had 20 points on 9-14 overall, 2-5 on threes, with two rebounds and two assists. Jalen Brunson had 12 points (5-9 FG), five assists and five rebounds. Omari Spellman had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Villanova Head Coach Jay Wright said of the game, “We beat a really good team. That was an very difficult team to prepare for, play against. They shot 48 percent and I thought we played well defensively. They have a lot of answers, but we played well. We played through foul trouble and it was really leadership, great leadership. Jalen Brunson, Mikal (Bridges) and Phil (Booth), these are our leaders and they got our guys ready to play. This was a good game for us.”
Wright said of the evolution of Bridges, “He’s a real high-character guy. He probably could have done more of this last year and the year before but he just gradually got better and better and he knows it this year. He’s the leader. He’s the captain, so he’s playing with a lot more freedom, ‘aggressiveness,’ as he says. Last year he would pass up a lot of those shots just to get it to Kris (Jenkins) or Josh (Hart), not because he wasn’t confident, he just knows it’s his turn and he’s ready for it. He’s worked hard to improve his game and he’s ready mentally and he’s ready skill-wise.”
Wright said of having Booth back with the team, “He brings a lot. He’s probably the most, they all like each other, but he’s the most revered guy on the team, the most respected. He just has a great relationship with everybody on the team. He played hurt his sophomore year, everybody knows that and they respect him for it. Scored 20 in the (2016 NCAA) championship game with all the pressure on him. He’s just a really well-respected guy, so it really permeates our team, his confidence having him back.”
Syracuse 72 , UConn 63
The nightcap rekindled the old Big East rivalry between Syracuse and UConn, but it was obvious who the better team is now.
Syracuse dominated this one throughout, and took the game over in the first half, when they opened up a 17-point edge, 37-20, on a Tyus Battle three with 3:04 left in the opening frame.
The Orange led 40-29 at halftime, and UConn never got closer than six points in the second half, as Syracuse won by nine, 72-63.
Syracuse improved to 7-0 on the season, and they were led by Battle, who had 22 points on 8-18 from the field, 3-8 on threes, with three assists, and two rebounds. Matthew Moyer had 18 points (7-9 FG, 1-2 threes) and eight rebounds. Oshae Brissett had 16 points, including 12 in the first half, on 5-13 shooting, with 10 rebounds to give him a double-double on the night.
UConn, who dropped to 6-3, was led by Jalen Adams, who had 22 points on 8-13 shooting, 3-6 from behind the arc, two rebounds, and two assists.
UConn’s record is a misnomer in a way, as their wins are against Colgate, Stony Brook, Boston University, Oregon, Columbia, and Monmouth while their three losses have been to far better teams, Michigan State (77-57) and Arkansas (102-67).