NEW YORK - Once very much a tradition around the holidays, the festival has changed.
The tree at Rockefeller Center, Rockettes Christmas spectacular and New Year’s Eve in Times Square are synonymous with the New York holiday experience. For years, the ECAC Holiday Festival was the college game’s contribution to Christmas in New York. Eight teams competed, then the tournament was scaled down to four. Now it is one doubleheader contested even before the arrival of Santa.
On Sunday at Madison Square Garden, Penn State defeated St. John’s, 92-76, while Rutgers stopped Fordham by a 68-53 count. Struggling St. John’s is another reminder of how the festival has changed. For years, the Red Storm (Redmen back then) often played the 9 p.m. game before a packed Garden charged with excitement. Sunday, Chris Mullin’s club had the first game, with a crowd one observer said could have been placed in Carnesecca Arena.
Times have changed, but the single-session festival still gave us storylines. Victimized by a 35-5 Penn State run, talk centered on the trials and tribulations of Big East representative St. John’s and how they can be remedied. Rutgers had the opportunity to showcase the wonderful job Steve Pikiell is doing reversing the fortunes of that program.
Yes, the festival has been altered. The days of the tournament format gave us excitement, creating special memories. Though it has its detractors due to those changes, the Holiday Festival still remains a part of the New York college landscape.
Madison Square Garden welcomes the crowd to the Holiday Festival:
Ray with Holiday Festival legend Hollis Copeland, a standout on Rutgers' 1976 Final Four team:
St. John's body language in the postgame press conference sums up the Red Storm's day:
Antwoine Anderson running the Fordham offense:
Nigel Johnson on the attack for Rutgers, being defended by Fordham's Joseph Chartouny:
Despite the loss, Fordham's cheer squad still enjoyed their opportunity to perform at the Garden:
From left to right: C.J. Gettys, head coach Steve Pikiell and Mike Williams meet the media after Rutgers defeats Fordham: