by Abe Schwadron / @abe_squad

Live basketball is back, baby! Monday night, Tzvi blogged you through MSG’s ’11-12 opener, which saw Coach K take home his all-time leading 903rd W, then the young bucks from Kentucky stomp on Kansas. Anthony Davis, we see you.

Tonight, we keep the hoops coming, with more live action from The Garden. The 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer gets underway in a few minutes, as unpredictable forward Renardo Sidney and Mississippi State take on No. 19 Texas A & M in the first semifinal. The Aggies and Bulldogs meet for the first time in 45 years, and can get used to it, since they’ll see a lot more of each other starting next season, when A & M makes the jump to the SEC.

In the second semifinal, St. John’s will defend its home court for the first time this season (after playing openers on-campus at Carnesecca Arena) against No. 15 Arizona. No shortage of storylines for this one, including an emotional return to New York for ‘Cats forward Kevin Parrom, who was shot in his Bronx home in September, then lost his mother a few weeks later.

Most importantly, we’ve got two nights of big-time college hoops to indulge in. So join me as we take in an evening of Big Apple basketball, looking for prospects, big plays and potential Tournament threats. Here we go!

GAME No. 1: Mississippi State vs. Texas A & M

Pre-Game: Abe here, with 15 minutes to tip-off at MSG. Scanning the lay-up lines, let’s talk kicks for a moment. In terms of shoe game, I have to give the Game One nod to A & M. The entire squad is exclusively rocking the gray adidas Crazy 8 or the adiZero Rose in white/maroon. There are some copycats on the MSU side, but most dudes are going with variations on the classic adidas Pro Model look.

6:55: Five minutes to tip. Garden’s barely half-full, it’s clear that the second game has the higher level of intrigue. But hey, I’m in the building, and we’re about to watch some live basketball. #EndTheLockout. Anyway, among the notables in attendance: your usual smattering of ESPN folk, you know, the Andy Katz-types…and for reasons I’m still unaware, that dude from Stump the Schwab.

7:04: David Loubeau, Ray Turner, Dash Harris, Jordan Green, Elston Turner are tonight’s starters for the Aggies. Renardo Sidney, Arnett Moultrie, Dee Bost, Rodney Hood, Brian Bryant for the Bulldogs.

7:06: Tip goes to Turner and A & M. Renardo Sidney with a big-time swat on the Aggies’ first possession. Also, I’ll take the “over” on his listed weight of 285. Love you, Sid!

7:08: Loubeau answers a Dee Bost breakaway dunk with a 3-pointer. 9-5 MSU with 17:35 to play in the first half.

7:11: Bost and Hood hit back-to-back treys to open up a 10-point lead. 15-5 MSU. I don’t know if it’s his score-and-do-nothing-else attitude, his swag, or the fact that I’m on the 400-level in this revamped arena, but Bost reminds me a little of Monta Ellis. Just a little.

7:14: Allow me to use the first TV timeout to say this: I always mix up these two teams in my mind, so it’s weirding me out that they’re going head to head tonight. Same colors, same seemingly second-class citizenship status in their respective conferences, same unheralded melange of players, same football-first school stance. Okay, fine, it’s just the colors.

7:20: Elston Turner hits from the Reese’s Cup at the top of the key, a couple free throws back and forth, and a Deville Smith—’Dogs freshman from Jackson, Miss.—twisting layup that drew “ooohs” from the New York City crowd, and it’s 18-9, MSU, 12:30 to play.

7:23: Yikes. Starting to get ugly. The Bulldogs are raining threes without so much as a hand in the face from A & M. It’s 24-9 Mississippi State, who looks more like the ranked team so far tonight. Then again, the Aggies are without Khris Middleton, their leading scorer from last season, who had surgery Friday to repair a partially torn right meniscus, and is expected to be out 3-4 weeks.

7:28: Wendell Lewis finishes over a defender on a lob from Smith. Damn. 31-9 MSU on top with 9:45 to go in the first. Hey when does that NFL game start?

7:32: “Roscoe” Dash Harris with a breakaway dunk to close the gap to 17. And yes, I’ve been waiting for him to make a play so I could refer to him as such. 31-14 Bulldogs with 7:49 left in half one.

7:42: Signs of life from A & M? Jamal Branch takes it to the cup, then Loubeau with a pretty little hook, and it’s 35-20, four minutes to go in the first.

7:44: Okay, something cool just happened. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is in the building! The NBA’s all-time leading scorer walks out to mid-court to a standing ovation. KAJ—a big-time cancer research supporter—just surpassed the T-shirt toss for loudest cheers so far tonight.

7:47: MSU switches to a 2-3 zone and Naji Hibbert immediately dials up a 3-ball to bring A & M within 14. 3:13 to play in the first.

7:49: Renardo Sidney alert! One one end, attempts to “take a charge” (essentially, had himself a seat on the floor), on the other, interferes with his own missed lay-in. MSU’s lead down to 12 under two minutes left. Uh-oh!

7:52: For a dude who’s averaged exactly 1 PPG over the first two games this year, Deville Smith can ball. He slithered his way through traffic for a left-handed finish that caught the arena’s attention, and he’s got 6 points already tonight. Then again, as I’m writing this, he turned the ball over after dribbling too much. Ahh, freshmen. 41-30 MSU under a minute to go here in the first half.

7:56: Your halftime score: Mississippi State 41, Texas A & M 32. MSU shot 50 percent from the field, but Loubeau leads all scorers with 10 points for the Aggies. And, the St. John’s fans have begun to file in.

8:12: The second half is underway, with both teams’ starting lineups back in the game, except Hibbert who steps in for Green at the 2 for A & M. The difference in the game right now is three-point shooting. Literally. A & M is 2-of-7, while MSU is 5-of-8, and the Bulldogs lead by nine.

8:17: Moultrie converts a 3-point play the hard way, while Sidney lingers in the backcourt, catching a breather. 48-32 MSU, 17:29 left.

8:20: In a game starved for storylines, Sidney remains the most interesting man on the court. I swear, dude could play in Timberlands. He’s like Andray Blatche but wider, Draymond Green but slower, Dexter Pittman but not as focused. And yet, despite just 3 points on 0-3 shooting, he’s constantly in the mix, posting up or being posted, contesting shots without leaving his feet and earning high-fives from teammates, seemingly just for being there.

8:27: Jamal Branch with a nice step-back elbow jumper. As odd as it sounds, the two most impressive players so far tonight, at least in terms of maximizing their roles, have been each team’s backup point guards—Branch for A & M and Smith for MSU. Both are freshmen, but both have handed out a couple assists and been efficient on offense in limited minutes. With 11:58 left, it’s 50-40, MSU still on top.

8:35: Renardo Sidney is now 0-7, and has 3 fouls. And only one of those seven was outside of two feet from the hoop.

8:38: 8:38 left to play. Matches the time of day. Am I bored? No, never. 54-40 Mississippi State.

8:42: Deville Smith just elicited the biggest “wow” of the night from the MSG crowd with a ridiculously acrobatic lay-up, and the foul. If Smith’s not careful, I might adopt him. He’s a pocket point guard with handles and the ability to finish in traffic, and his career-high 8 points have MSU up 58-44 with 7:28 to play.

8:50: Branch crashes into MSU’s bench going after a loose ball. Scary moment, but he’s up and okay. Roscoe Dash, er, Dash Harris replaces him with 5:05 to play and the Bulldogs up 58-47. Can the Aggies make a late push?

8:52: Jordan Green nails a three-pointer from the right corner to make this a single-digit ballgame. A & M is only down 8 with under four minutes to play.

8:53: Bost drills a trey to put MSU up 63-52. He’s got 16 points to lead all scorers, and has been killing Harris all night.

9:00: Looks like the Bulldogs are going to take this one to the bank. It’s 65-52 and Wendell Lewis is headed to the line for two shots with just 1:22 to play.

9:03: Green just threw down a hammer of a dunk, albeit in the waning seconds of a double-digit L. Time to clear the benches, it’s walk-on time! 24 seconds to go…

9:05: Your final score in semifinal number one: Mississippi State 69, Texas A & M 60. The Bulldogs will take on the winner of the second semifinal, which is set to tip in about 30 minutes. Meet you back here for St. Johns-Arizona, which should be a doozy. The Garden’s starting to really fill up, and the buzz is starting. Heard the Johnnies are wearing some fresh new jerseys tonight, too. More on that to come. Catch you in a few!

9:27: Two minutes from tip for Game Two, and the atmosphere is crazy right now. Lotta ‘Zona fans in the house. Anyway, last couple things on Game One, before we get to the main event. Bost, who finished with a game-high 20, said he only cared about the W, when asked about dropping a dubstep in the world’s most famous arena. Head coach Rick Stansbury praised Deville Smith for his ability to change the speed of the game, and had nice things to say about Renardo Sidney’s “effort,” despite an 0-8 shooting night and as many fouls as points (3). Ok, on to SJU-AZ!

GAME No. 2: St. John’s vs. Arizona

9:29: There are more Arizona fans than St. John’s fans. Forreal. Starters: Moe Harkless, D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Nurideen Lindsey, Malik Stith for SJU and Solomon Hill, Jesse Perry, Kyryl Natyazhko, Jordin Mayes, Kyle Fogg for the Wildcats.

9:32: Notes from the swag department: St. John’s is wearing black jerseys with red numbers and red trim. Yes, black on black, and they are something cold. And to match? How ’bout some fresh LeBron 9s for the whole squad. Black/red colorway, matches perfectly. Oh, and I’ll get to Arizona’s variety of J’s and Nikes in a few. Here’s the tip!

9:34: A defensive stop from St. John’s ignites the “Let’s Go Johnnies!” chants at MSG. Harkless puts the Red Storm up 2-0 with a driving layup at the other end.

9:37: God’sgift Achiuwa enters the game to the delight of everyone in attendance. Odd that he didn’t start, considering he’s the team’s leading scorer at 17.7 a game. And, not that it needs mentioning, but this St. John’s team is loaded with amazing names. Discuss.

9:41: Kevin Parrom strokes a 3 to give the Wildcats a 6-4 lead. Must feel good for KP, who makes his return to New York after a crazy few months. Good to see him back out there—the ‘Cats will need him to fill the spot vacated by Derrick Williams if they want to make some noise in the Tourney come March.

9:45: TV timeout, 9-6 Arizona with 15:49 to go in the first. While we have a moment, I’ll hit a couple of on-court kicks choices from Arizona: reserve guard Josiah Turner is rocking all-red Air Jordan Vs, while reserve forward Angelo Chol elected to go with some LeBron 8s in black and red. More on the sneaker tip when I can.

9:47: Hill—who is wearing white/red Air Jordan XIVs this evening— beats the Red Storm’s 2-3 zone for a wide open three at the top of the key. D’Angelo Harrison and Turner trade threes on consecutive possessions. And Sir’Dominic is back. 16-10 Arizona, 13:45 to play in the first.

9:53: Phil Greene drills a three in transition for SJU to pull within two, at 19-17. Loving the back and forth between the fans in this one. Seems like the momentum swings with every bucket.

9:57: Lindsey ties it up with a reverse layup that drew the customary wows from the crowd.

10:00: Hill with another three-pointer for ‘Zona. The Wildcats are already 6-10 from downtown. But Harkless answers with an old-fashioned three-point play, and we’re knotted at 26, 8:25 to play in the first half.

10:09: It’s been a free throw battle for the last few minutes, and with a Malik Stith put-back, St. John’s is on top, 31-26 with about seven minutes to go here in the first half. Oh, and Steve Lavin’s entire SJU staff is wearing Air Force One Lows, white with the red swoosh.

10:11: Stith heads back to the line and gets one of two. 32-26 SJU. St. John’s is really looking to push the rock and get out in transition, whereas Arizona would prefer to slow things down, swing the ball around the Red Storm zone and find an open three. A real battle of tempos being waged.

10:13: Jordin Mayes just picked up his 3rd personal foul with five minutes left in the first half. Turner and Nick Johnson will have to pick things up in the backcourt, since Fogg’s been quiet, too (just 3 points). 36-32 St. John’s after a baseline slam by Harkless.

10:21: More free throws. SJU 13-19. AZ 9-13. AJU 36, AZ 35 with 3:10 1st half.

10:22: Brendon Lavender checks in for Arizona. This is notable because Mr. Lavender wears the Cool Grey XIs. Otherwise, not so much.

10:26: Apparently, Brendon heard me. He just stroked a three-pointer to give ‘Zona a 44-41 lead heading into the half. Got to be happy with the lead if you’re Sean Miller, considering St. John’s dominated the first ten minutes of the game, before it became a free throw contest. First-half stats on the way…

10:33: This might be the dopest halftime “show” I’ve ever seen—two randomly selected bros from the crowd are playing NBA 2K12 on the jumbotron. Seriously. I’m glued to it. This is genius.

10:42: SJU’s D’Angelo Harrison leads all scorers with 14 points (including 7-8 from the charity stripe). For the Wildcats, Solomon Hill has 9 and Kyle Fogg and Jordin Mayes have 7 apiece. Three-point shooting stats stood out from the first half: Arizona was 9-16, the Red Storm just 2-of-7 from deep. Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Nurideen Lindsey are all strapped with three fouls for SJU, as are Mayes and Nick Johnson for the ‘Cats. Oh, and the St. John’s bro won the 2K12 matchup, since I know you were on the edge of your seat. Second half starts in 3:30!

10:46: And we’re back in action for the second half. We’ve got a three-point game, a ranked team on the ropes, St. John’s in all-black unis, Steve Lavin in AF1s, drunk college kids, what more could you ask for?

10:50: Nurideen Lindsey is a nightmare in transition. Two straight strong takes to the cup. He has 12, and St. John’s is within one, 46-45.

10:51: A Kyle Fogg sighting. His trey puts ‘Zona up four.

10:59: Nick Johnson throws one down, the “U of A” chants begin. But Phil Greene is having none of that. Strokes a midrange J, and SJU is sticking with the Wildcats. It’s Arizona 54, Red Storm 49 with 14 minutes and change to go. Odd note: St. John’s has yet to commit a foul in the second half. This after a first half in which they committed 13.

11:03: Greene 3-ball. Greene runner. He’s got 10 and we’re tied at 54. 12:20 to play.

11:08: SJU turning up the heat! Backdoor cut from Harrison, Pointer strong drive to the hoop. Red Storm take a 60-56 lead and the crowd is really getting into it now. Sean Miller needs a timeout with 10:25 to go in this one. Could we have an upset brewing?

11:11: Okay, okay, okay! St. John’s is going HAM right now, no other way to explain it. Fans are hyped, Lindsey just took another one right at his defender and scooped it with the left hand. 62-56 SJU and all the momentum is with the fellas in black and Bron Brons. Should be a crazy last ten minutes.

11:17: Pointer banks in a long two, then Lindsey takes a loose ball coast-to-coast. Ball is just bouncing the Red Storm’s way right now. Lindsey has a game-high 18 points, and has been the best player on the court since halftime, pushing the tempo and taking on multiple defenders at once. It bears repeating: he can get to the basket whenever he wants, no matter who’s guarding him. If he continues to play as strong as he has tonight, and the big boys can crash boards and play defense, Lavin and Co. will have a lot to work with come Dancin’ season.

11:22: Nick Johnson cashes a three, Josiah Turner yams one on a breakaway, and Lindsey commits an offensive foul. Can you say “momentum swing”? It’s 66-63 with St. John’s still on top, but the ‘Cats just stole back the emotional edge…and the crowd. Less than six to play in NYC.

11:25: Fogg finds Hill for an easy deuce, but Turner commits a ticky tack foul on the other end—AZ’s seventh foul. SJU will shoot free throws the rest of the way now. 68-65 with five to play.

11:27: Perry underneath for two, a pair of free throws for Hill, and then Lindsey commits yet another offensive foul. That’s five on him. Ouch. Lindsey exits with 18 points and five boards. He was St. Johns’ best option on offense. AZ leads 69-68 with three and change left.

11:30: Lindsey’s exit may have spelled ultimate doom for SJU. Fogg drills a three (welcome to the party, Kyle) and Perry puts back his own miss on consecutive possessions for the ‘Cats, who now lead 74-68 with 3:06 on the clock. The Johnnies will have to summon a touch of magic to come back. Perhaps a God’sgift cameo?

11:32: And we’ve got our first skirmish of this “Classic”! Some light shoving near the free throw line as we head to a timeout. Funny, I thought Renardo Sidney played in the first game…but seriously, c’mon guys, this for cancer!

11:35: 74-70 AZ on top with just under three minutes to play. Harkless, Harrison, Achiuwa, Pointer and Greene for SJU. Mayes, Fogg, Perry, Parrom and Johnson for Arizona.

11:36: Nick Johnson hits his third 3-pointer of the game to give the ‘Cats a 77-70 lead, then has his dunk attempt on the next possession swatted away by Harkless, who runs the floor for a bunny. It’s 77-72 Arizona with 1:33 to play.

11:38: Beautifully executed pick-and-roll from Fogg to Perry for an easy bucket, and that may be the dagger, folks. With 33.1 seconds left, AZ is up by seven, 79-72, and has possession. Barring the ghost of Reggie Miller inhabiting a Johnnies’ body over the next half-minute, this one is over.

11:41: Sir’Dominic fouls out. Dangit, love that name. He finishes with 4 points, 5 boards, 2 assists.

11:42: Kyle Fogg dribbles it out. Your final score from the second semifinal: Arizona 81, St. John’s 72. Lindsey led all scorers with 18 points, and perhaps the outcome would have been different had he not fouled out.

11:45: Some final notes before I get outta here (got me out past my bedtime!): the Wildcats shot a ridiculous 14-of-28 from three-point range. Seven different players hit a three in the game, and five players finished with double-digit scoring nights. Hill had 15, Fogg had 13 and Mayes had 12. That’s all I got from The Garden, folks. Be sure to join me again tomorrow night as we wrap up the 2K Sports Classic with the Championship matchup between Arizona and Mississippi State. Should be a good one, see you then!