If you are one of the few, the proud, the regular readers of this site, you know that I am old school. And one of my favorite "life songs" is Ricky Nelson's "I Went to a Garden Party". Ricky Nelson was originally on the TV show "Ozzie and Harriet" with his parents, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, a show that lasted fourteen years on television. He later then became a very popular music act with several big hits in the 50's and 60's. The 60's brought acts like the Beatles, the Stones etc to the foreground and Nelson faded into the background.
In 1971, he rather reluctantly played a "revival" concert at Madison Square Garden. The fans there were expecting a 50's looking Ricky Nelson, with his short haircut. But Nelson now had long hair and bell bottoms, as he too was experiencing the 70's as well. He played his old music, but also played some of his new material, which was more based in country music. Apparently in the middle of the set, the crowd starting booing heavily, especially during his version of the Stones "Honky Tonk Woman". It turns out that the crowd also may have been booing the police who were removing drunk fans from the arena. Nelson decided to cut bait and left the stage mid set.
This experience led him to writing "I Went to a Garden Party", a major hit for him. The lyrics are actually quite meaningful. It captures the era of the time. And of course there is the "it's all right now, learned my lesson well. You see, you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself." It's those lyrics that I try to live by, as should everyone. But there is also my favorite below;
"If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck. But if memories were all I sang, I rather drive a truck"
Sadly, Nelson died shortly after the above 1985 video in a plane crash in Texas. But that song will always remain one of my favorites.
So every time I go to MSG for a college hoops game, whether a single game or a Tournament, to me it's a Garden Party. And I never go for memories, it's always for new experiences.
I got into Penn Station at 5:15 pm and immediately headed upstairs to the Friday's outside the Amtrak waiting area. And I had got there early to Penn Station for a reason. There was Tieff at the bar watching the Hofstra-North Carolina first round game at the Puerto Rico Tipoff. The Pride was down 13, 29-16 at the time I got there. It was immediately evident that the Pride could not stop the Tar Heels from scoring, despite the Pride shooting over 50 percent from the field, which was due in large part to one Charles Jenkins. Jenkins and Heels' super frosh Harrison Barnes had a first half mano on mano duel. Jenkins was 9 of 11 from the field in the first half for 20 points, while Barnes nailed four threes and scored 19 points.
But the rest of the Pride couldn't keep up with the Tar Heels. And what was 13 points, turned into 25 aft the half, 58-33. Then Carolina Blue turned up the heat on Jenkins, holding him to four second half points and the rest of Hofstra went ice cold from the field. A lead that was 25 points quickly grew to 30 then 35, then 40 points in the span of ten minutes. The Heels shot 56 percent from the field, including a ridiculous 12 of 17 from beyond the arc (70 percent).
As a work colleague of mine said to me today, it was like "Hofstra was hit by a tsunami' in the second half. The Pride had no answer for the Heels outside shooting and when Carolina did miss, they cleaned up on second chance opportunities. North Carolina had 20 offensive rebounds and outrebounded Hofstra 49-27 as a whole. It was a beat down of epic proportions as the only thing missing was free tacos in the 107-63 win by North Carolina.
As the game's first few minutes went by, several things were immediately evident. First, Maryland has serious issues at the foul line as they missed their first five free throw attempts. In their second game of the season, a one point win over Charleston, the Terps were 5 of 18 from the charity stripe, so this was not a new event. Second,. Pitt was definitely the better rebounding team and clearly used their size to their advantage. Surprisingly though despite the free throw and rebounding deficiencies, Maryland hung in the game due to limiting their turnovers and actually was ahead, 27-26 with a little more than a minute left before Pitt scored the last five points to go up 31-27 at the half.
Now when Tieff, Mal and I are at a game together, we often are keeping track of other games and giving each other updates. And Thursday night was no exception. We were keeping track of the Western Kentucky - Minnesota, Charlotte-George Mason, Richmond-Iona, and Morehead State -UNCW games. We even talked about how VCU throttled Wake Forest. As a result, during halftime Mal made his way down to the MSG ticket office and got tickets for next weeks Preseason NIT Tipoff.
Yet somehow, the Terps hung in there, responding with a 14-2 run of their own, due in large part to forcing four Panthers' turnovers in four minutes. Maryland actually had a chance to tie the game when Gibbs fouled Terrell Stoglin on a three point attempt. But after hitting the first two free throws, Stoglin missed the third free throw and Maryland was still down one 44-43. The Terps would never tie or take the lead the rest of the way.
Pitt used its rebounding advantage down the stretch and would also make 26 of 37 free throws to slowly pull away. Maryland stayed in the game due to their ability to hold onto the ball better than Pitt (Panthers had 16 turnovers as opposed to 8 for the Terps) and actually had two more shot attempts than Pitt despite being outrebounded by 18. But again, what killed the Terps was their 14 of 30 shooting from the charity stripe. Pitt would win 79-70 as five Panthers scored in double figures with Talib Zanna had 14 points while Gibbs, a very talented player, added 13. Cliff Tucker had 17 points while Jordan Williams, Maryland's best player, added 14 for the Terps.
Pitt looks as good as their #4 ranking. In fact, my friend Mal predicts the Panthers will win the NCAA Tournament. Maryland is actually pretty good (well duh, they did make the NCAA Tournament last season), though they need work at the line and on their three point shooting.
As the Maryland fans left in a mass exodus, we were able to move our way down further to Section 48 for the second game. During the break though, we learned that UNCW had come from behind to beat a good Morehead State team (a nice early win for new Seahawks coach Buzz Peterson), Mason waxed Charlotte as I told Mal they would, and Minnesota pulled away from Western Kentucky at the Puerto Rico Tipoff for an easy win. It would turnout the Gophers and the Hilltoppers would have big parts in the Tipoff on Friday.
As the Illini-Longhorns game started, you could tell immediately that this was going to be a competitive first half. #22 Texas has some really talented athletes, especially the trio of senior Gary Johnson, sophomore Jordan Hamilton and the dynamic freshman Tristan Thompson. But #16 Illinois, who I saw last holding off Stony Brook in the NIT in March, has talent too. D.J. Richardson and Demetri McCamey are an excellent guard combination.
And it was evident that both of these talented teams had their games on. Hamilton scored eleven of his team's first thirteen points and the Longhorns were up 13-9. But McCamey's five points were part of a 7-0 Fighting Illini mini spurt as Illinois went up 16-13. But like a good championship boxing match with two equal contenders, the Longhorns would fight back with a 13-4 run of their own. Thompson would punctuate this run with a dunk to put Texas up 26-20 with a little less than ten minutes left in the first half.
During this time, we found out that Richmond-Iona were waging their own battle, now heading into a second overtime. The Gaels would eventually prevail 81-77 in double overtime. It was a huge win for Iona for two reasons. First, it kept them from an 0-4 start (Iona is now 1-3). And second, the Gaels got a big win over a previously unbeaten team that made the NCAA Tournament last season and that was returning its best player in Kevin Anderson. Tim Cluess' first win as a Division I coach was a big one.
Illinois would continue their comeback by outscoring the Longhorns by seven over the next five minutes. McCamey's three point jumper would cap that comeback and the Fighting Illini were back up 42-39 with 2:37 left. But once again, the Longhorns would return the favor. Thompson who had previously hit a jumper to put Texas up 39-37, scored Texas' next four points as well to put them back up 43-42.
The half ended as it should with Mike Tisdale burying an open three to tie the game at 45. Both teams shot well over 50 percent in the first half. And it wasn't like both teams aren't good defensively (both teams would end up shooting well under 50 percent for the game). It was just two good ranked teams on their offensive games in the first half.
The first half would be it for me. I had to leave to catch an 11:09 PM train to head back to the Island. Tieff had left somewhat earlier but Mal's train was ten minutes later than mine and he decided to stay to watch the start of the second half. As I got back to the Hicksville train station near midnight and made it to my car in a remote parking lot, I turned on the radio. I quickly got a 1050 radio update that the game was heading in overtime, which with these two teams made a lot of sense. Quickly I drove home and was able to catch on TV Texas pulling away for the 90-84 OT win.
I didn't feel any regret that I left a good Garden Party early. Too many deadlines and commitments were again facing me later that day at work. But I also know that I had a ticket in my wallet. It was for Wednesday, November 24th at 7:00 PM. Section 110, Row A, Seat 10. The ticket is for the Preseason NIT Tipoff at MSG. Once again, next week I will be at another Garden Party. And with Thanksgiving the very next day, I won't have to worry about leaving early. I plan on staying for the entire party.