Saturday at noon, the men’s basketball team will tip off in New York City to play Manhattan College at a court on the corner of 32nd Street and Seventh Avenue. Its name is Madison Square Garden.
For the first time since 1957, the Bulldogs will play at what many consider to be the Mecca of basketball. In addition to being home of the NBA’s New York Knicks, the self-proclaimed “World’s Most Famous Arena” has played host to college basketball games since 1934, according to the stadium’s website.
“We’re just excited about the opportunity to play in the Garden,” head coach James Jones said. “It’s something that coaches dream about and kids dream about.”
Guard Basil Williams ’04, a native of the Bronx, said he has been flooded with requests for tickets.
“I’ve had about 40 or 50 people call me and ask for tickets,” he said.
In their last trip to Madison Square Garden 45 years ago, the Elis lost 90-74 to the University of North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. John J. Lee ’58, the namesake of Yale’s John J. Lee Amphitheater, was a member of that team.
Yale hopes its return to the Garden will coincide with a return to the NCAA Tournament this season.
“There have been many great moments that have happened there (at Madison Square Garden), and we’re just glad to have a chance to be a part of it,” Jones said.
Following the Yale-Manhattan game are two other college basketball contests: Georgia Tech plays Marist at 2 p.m. and St. John’s will face Fordham at 4 p.m.
Madison Square Garden is not Manhattan’s usual home court. The Jaspers’ home court, Draddy Gymnasium, is located in the Bronx on 242nd Street.
But Manhattan is undefeated at Madison Square Garden and is a perfect 3-0 on the season. The Jaspers’ first victory was over the Elis’ Thursday night victim, Sacred Heart University. On Nov. 25, Manhattan defeated Sacred Heart 77-62; Yale beat Sacred Heart 88-69 yesterday.
Manhattan also handled Loyola 65-53 on Nov. 29 and Fordham 85-57 on Dec. 3.
Like Yale, Manhattan relies heavily on its bench. Eight Jaspers average over 15 minutes a game, and four score in double figures. They are led by 6-foot-2 guard Luis Flores, who averages 22 points per game.
“They are a great team,” Jones said of the Jaspers. “They play hard, they are well coached and they’ve got great athletes.”
The Bulldogs might need to battle a case of the nerves, as well. The Garden seats 19,763, representing by far the largest arena Yale will visit this season.
But despite being a lifetime Knicks fan, Williams said he would only be nervous until tip-off.
“Once you get on the court, it’s just basketball,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter how many people are watching.”
Williams said playing at Oklahoma State’s 13,611-seat Gallagher-Iba Arena in the team’s season-opener tested the Bulldogs’ ability to stay focused. Oklahoma State’s arena is considered by many one of the toughest places to play in the nation.
“I don’t think there will be any distractions at all,” Williams said.