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Live form the Coaches vs Cancer Classic

November 14, 2003 Columns No Comments

Coaches vs. Cancer – Day 1 Recap

by Todd Keryc

And they’re off. Sort of. Ok, so technically, the 2003-04 college basketball season began when Memphis took on Wake Forest at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night and continued as St. John’s hosted Marquette in the nightcap of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. However, after roughly five hours of turnovers, fouls, and poor shooting, I think I can speak for the sparse crowd in attendance at The Garden when I say “let’s try this again.”

In the opener, the Demon Deacons outlasted Memphis 85-76 led by Taron Downey’s 20 points off the bench. Downey, who underwent an emergency appendectomy just eight days ago, hit several big shots (4-7 from downtown) to lead Wake Forest in their first game of the post-Josh Howard era. In a game marred by fouls (53 total), Coach Skip Prosser was forced to switch to a 2-3 zone with 8:45 remaining in the first half and starter Vytas Danelius saddled with 3 fouls. Trailing 23-22 at the time, Wake stayed even in the zone and led 39-36 going into the intermission.

The second half was not much better. The officials continued to be the story as Memphis was in the bonus only 6 minutes into the half. Wake joined them only 3 minutes later and free throws marred what was otherwise a relatively clean game. Memphis killed any chances of winning by shooting a dismal 12 of 29 at the charity stripe. The Deacons put the game away coming out of the under 8:00 timeout, when Downey led an 8-0 run, which included a 3-ball that glanced off the front rim and fell through. Chris Paul, making his collegiate debut, struggled to a 1 of 7 from the floor, but managed to finish with 10 points (8-8 FT’s) and was a pest all night defensively with his 4 steals. Rodney Carney led the Tigers with 19 points in their second consecutive appearance in the opening game of the CVC Classic, which last year ended in a 70-63 upset win over eventual National Champion Syracuse.

In the second game, even the presence of the hometown St. John’s Red Storm could not attract a crowd. In a matchup of future Big East rivals, the Marquette Golden Eagles opened life without Dwyane Wade with a 52-45 road win over the Storm before a silent, empty Madison Square Garden. Travis Diener led all scorers with 18 points for the Eagles, who shot under 30% for the game but still managed to hang on for the victory. Whereas the first game of the night was plagued by fouls, the nightcap was marred by sloppy play including too many turnovers and a sealed rim that refused to give way all night. Diener held Marquette together in the first half, scoring 8 of their 15 points until forward Steve Novak concluded the half with a pair of treys to give the Golden Eagles a 21-20 halftime lead. St. John’s was not much better, as their lightning backcourt of Elijah Ingram and Darryll “Showtime” Hill could not generate any easy baskets. With just over a minute remaining in the 1st half, Grady Reynolds put a fitting cap on the display by blowing an easy breakaway dunk.

In the second half, Marquette seized control thanks to a 5-minute stretch from Travis Diener. With his shot off all night, Diener took the reigns left behind by the departed Wade and became a big-time playmaker. First, he fed Dameon Mason on a backdoor alley-oop against the Red Storm zone. A couple of possessions later, Diener penetrated the zone and found Todd Townsend along the baseline for another dunk to give Marquette a 3-point lead. He added free throws down the stretch to hold off a late St. John’s comeback. Scott Merritt chipped in with 6 points and 7 rebounds before fouling out late. Grady Reynolds led the Red Storm with 11 points while Kyle Cuffe added 10. The dynamic backcourt finished with a combined 13 points and 1 assist against 6 turnovers. But the star was Diener, whose all-around floor game made him the player of the night. He finished with 18 points, 4 assists, 6 steals, and 0 turnovers while playing the full 40 minutes.

And thus it begins. The Countdown to the Alamo is underway. While Night 1 may have been anything but special, we will indeed try it again Friday night at the Garden when Pittsburgh tangles with Alabama and in the Main Event, two of America’s premier guards face off as Jameer Nelson and St. Joseph’s battle Blake Stepp and Gonzaga.

News and Notes

• The attendance was listed at 6,222 and the crowd never had a reason to make itself a factor. For a home game, St. John’s did not bring much support

• For the past 2 seasons, the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic has featured the eventual National Champion losing (Maryland lost to Arizona in 2001 and Syracuse lost to Memphis in 2002)

• Last year, 3 of the eventual Final Four participated in this event (Syracuse, Marquette, Texas)

• St. John’s spent most of the game in a zone, putting on a zone press whenever they could

• St. John’s had only 3 assists all night on 16 field goals

• Of the 4 teams playing on Thursday night, only St. John’s had its official pep band in attendance. Marquette, Wake Forest, and Memphis all used high school bands from around the area to fill in. Similarly, only St. John’s brought cheerleaders

• Tomorrow night Pittsburgh takes on Alabama and the 2-day event concludes with the Main Event backcourt showdown as Jameer Nelson and St. Joseph’s battles Blake Stepp and Gonzaga.


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