NEW YORK, NY - The sweet sixteen round of the NCAA basketball tournament came to the concrete jungle on Friday night, as teams from all around the country attempted to pursue their dream of winning a national championship. UCONN, Iowa State, Virginia, and Michigan State all battled in out on the hard court in hopes of advancing to the Elite Eight round of the NCAA tournament east regional, which will take place on Sunday.
This was the first time in 53 years that Madison Square Garden has hosted the NCAA tournament. This homecoming made for two electrifying matchups. In the first game, Connecticut was able to hold off Iowa State in a second half thriller. In the second matchup, Michigan State overthrew the top-seed Virginia in a nail-bitter.
In the first game of the double-header, Connecticut took on Iowa State. Both teams were very well represented in the stands. Connecticut, the hometown favorite had a loud and proud student section. The Iowa State Cyclones, despite being 1,134 miles away from Madison Square Garden also had strong support from their fans. The Iowa States fans painted Madison Square Garden’s stands red with support for their hometown team. The UCONN Huskies are the underdog in the tournament. UCONN, the seven-seed battled hard against the three-seeded Iowa State Cyclones.
The Connecticut-Iowa State game started slow and largely in Connecticut’s favor. At halftime, Connecticut led 36 to 26. Iowa State worked to regain the lead. At one point the Huskies led by 17 points. With just under two minutes left, Iowa State made a crucial three-point shot. With 1:40 left in the game, Connecticut quickly reciprocated with another three-point shot to make the score, 70 to 65 in favor of Connecticut. After cutting the deficit to a mere four points, Iowa State ran out of steam. Despite a good comeback attempt the game ended by a score of 81 to 76 in favor of Connecticut.
Both schools have tri-state area players on their teams. The Cyclones, despite being stationed in the Midwest have New Yorkers on their team. Junior-Forward, Dustin Hogue is from Yonkers New York. Hogue was Iowa State's top scorer on Friday night and contributed 34 points. Connecticut, who had to travel only one state border to take the court in New York, has six players from the tri-state area.
Hogue recognized that he was a hometown favorite, which made him try to win even more. “To have a chance to play in front of my fans and family, it would have definitely been an unforgettable moment to win in front of my fans and family," Hogue said. "I had a lot of people from home watching, and to have this opportunity all together is just unbelievable for me. We didn't come out with the win, but to play in the Garden, it's something I dreamed about as a kid. So this opportunity was special. I'm happy our guys came out fighting the way they did.”
Connecticut displayed high energy throughout the duration of the game. Not only was the crowd loud and proud, but also the UCONN bench came to their feet during every electrifying play.
The Huskies entered the game with a winning attitude. Despite being the underdog, Connecticut came into the game with a winning mentality. Before the game, when asked about the team’s chances, former coach Jim Calhoun responded, “I like their chances, they’re going to win.” This confident attitude represents the way that Connecticut played the game.
There were many notable spectators in the crowd, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who told The Alternative Press, “I am an avid basketball fan and I am hoping for a couple good games.” Christie did not reveal which teams he favored but one can assume that by the 2016 Iowa caucuses, Christie will be a proud Iowa State fan.
The primetime event of the night was Virginia versus Michigan State. The Virginia Cavaliers, the top-seed in the East regional was the favorite to upset the number four-seeded Michigan State Spartans. The game started very competitively and stayed close throughout the entire first half, which ended with Michigan State up, 31 to 27.
The crowd was loud and energetic throughout the game. It was evident that Virginia’s fans came in numbers and greatly outnumbered Michigan State’s fans. The Cavalier fans were rowdy and spirited. A fan exclaimed it best, “I feel like I am in Charlottesville at a Virginia home game.”
The action-packed competition provided intense offense and high caliber defense. The crowd erupted when Virginia’s Akil Mitchell laid out a block in the second half. Another enthralling moment came with just under two minutes left in the game when Michigan State turned the ball over and Virginia’s Justin Anderson made a three-pointer to tie the game at 51. The three-point shot sent the Virginia fans into frenzy and created what may be considered a small earthquake in Madison Square Garden. Michigan State quickly reciprocated with a three-pointer from Adreian Payne. Soon after, Garry Harris sent another three-pointer through the basket to cut the deficit to only two points.
With just 30 seconds left in the game, Adreian Payne sunk two free throws to give the Spartans a four-point advantage. Virginia crawled back to make it a one point game with 1.4 seconds left. Michigan State’s Garry Harris drained one free throw to make the score 61 to 59. Virginia had one final heave to try to win the game but it fell short.
All in all it was an exciting night in the Big Apple as the tri-state area played host to two very competitive games. Michigan State will take on Connecticut on Sunday at the Garden in the elite eight round of the tournament.