NEW YORK CITY – A day after handily defeating Marist in the semifinal, St.John’s met their match. Virginia Tech defeated the Red Storm 81-67 before slightly over 2000 at Madison Square Garden . The win gave Virginia Tech a second straight Aeropostale Holiday Festival title. Tech defeated St.John’s is last year’s championship.
St.John’s, playing minus the injured Justin Burrell and Anthony Mason (out for the season) fell behind 9-3 and by the first few minutes, appeared headed for a long afternoon. The Storm responded and got right back into it largely on the strength of their three point shooting. Paris Horne led the way with 11 for the Storm and shot 3 of 6 beyond the arc.
The second half saw Tech build on its 39-35 halftime lead.. Sean Evans of St.John’s was limited to three minutes the first half due to foul trouble. The 6-8 sophomore had a strong second half , finishing with 13 points 8 rebounds. The Storm however shot an icy 0 of 8 beyond the arc the second half. Credit that to the Tech zone that trapped the wings and extended deeper the final twenty minutes. “We mainly went 1-3-1 to keep our guys out of foul trouble,” Tech coach Seth Greenburg said. “In my eighteen years of coaching I don’t remember ever playing as much zone.”
Offensively the Hokies also exhibited good crisp ball movement, finding the likes of A.D. Vassallo who scored a game high 24 points. Malcom Delaney added 22 points, handed out 8 assists and earned the Lou Carnesecca Most Valuable Player award. “In the second half, Greenburg said, “we made better decisions on offense. We screened and read the defense.”
“We competed,” St.John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “But we hit a five or six minute stretch where we didn’t execute and gave up too many offensive rebounds. Against an ACC team a stretch like that can change the game. But give them credit. They (Tech) wore us down.”
St.John’s earned the championship by defeating 65-44 Marist in the semifinals. The Red Storm was dominant inside with Evans scoring nineteen points while D.J. Kennedy added 14 boards. Virginia Tech, behind Delaney’s 25 points, was too much for Columbia as they earned a 64-52 decision in the other semi.
In the consolation, Marist and Columbia battled in a closely contested matchup.. Marist enjoyed a two point lead at the half and opened it to a ten point cushion midway through the second half. The Lions responded largely on the play of K.J. Matsui. The senior guard came off the bench to drain three big treys and take a charge on the other end. “He (Matsui) made a big play that lifted us with taking that charge,” Columbia coach Joe Jones said. “But let’s say he is a senior and that is not a play he made in the past,” Jones added with a humorous touch. Down the stretch, Columbia made the plays and free throws to secure the 63-58 victory. Matsui finished with 11 points while Norwua Agho led the Lions with 13 points. Ryan Schneider paced Marist with a game high 16 points.
- St.John’s is a better club than last season. The injury hex hasn’t been kind to Norm Roberts and co. Anthony Mason JR. is gone for the year. Justin Burrell missed the festival with an injury and point guard Malik Boothe played with a finger injury. Through the misfortune, Roberts makes no excuse. “Injuries are part of the game,” he said. “Someone is out another player takes his place and gets an opportunity to show what he can do.”
- Festival is usually following Christmas but went to a pre-December 25 format for the first time. Double headers were on Saturday and Sunday before Christmas. Finals attendance was barely over 2,000. Some blame the pre-Christmas date and/or less than ideal weather for the sparse showing. Fact of the matter is until St.John’s gets more competitive the crowds will be hard to come by. Plain and simple.
- Jones noted that Marist outplayed Columbia the first half yet his team stayed together and hung in. “This is a close team,” Jones said. “They cheer for one another and have great relationships. Down the stretch, especially the last eight minutes we got the rebounds and picked up the loose balls.”
- For Marist the effort is there but all too often the Red Foxes run out of gas especially in the final half.. “We ran into a wall around the nine minute (remaining) mark and couldn’t score,” Marist coach Chucky Martin said. “We have three guys going over 35 minutes and fatigue is a factor.” One of the trio is freshman guard R.J. Hall who recently won the starting job. Hall, who prepped at Bloomfield Tech in New Jersey, turned in a fine 13 point 6 assist outing in 37 minutes. “R.J. was unbelievable,” Martin said. “He played almost the entire game and played really well.”
- Following the semifinal victory over Columbia, Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenburg had an approximately one hour meeting at the hotel with his team. “We talked about effort,” Greenburg said. “I was embarrassed because I didn’t feel we competed with a good enough effort (against Columbia) today (in the St.John’s game) we definitely did.”
- Greenburg operates in ACC country today but New York is always special. He grew up on Long Island and played for Fairleigh Dickinson under the late al LoBalbo. “My dad played for Clair Bee,” Greenburg said. “I remember in the Sixties sitting upstairs in the old Garden and watching the Joe Lapchick coached St.John’s teams play. When you come to play here you should play in a way you are respecting the game.”
Members of the All Tournament team were :
KJ Matsui, Columbia
Ryan Schneider, Marist
DJ Kennedy , St.John’s
Sean Evans, St.John’s
A.D. Vassallo, Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is 8-4. St.John’s falls to 9-2 , the other loss to another ACC team, Boston College in the Pre-Season NIT. ACC ‘tour’ for the Storm continues as they host Miami on Saturday at noon at the Garden.
On the Baseline: All except Va. Tech brought cheerleaders. Marist band is outstanding, one of the best around. The Garden is not only special to mid-major players, Marist brought, count them, 23 cheerleaders and Columbia brought a full dance and cheer squad.