Champions Classic Live Blog

by November 15, 2011

by Tzvi Twersky | @ttwersky

Damn, it feels good to be back in Madison Square Garden.

Not only is this my first time I’ve stepped foot in MSG since the Boston Celtics defeated the New York Knicks in Game 4 of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, this is the first time any basketball has been played at the Garden since then.

Granted it’s not NBA basketball being played in the newly renovated Garden tonight…but it’s pretty close.

Tonight, in the inaugural State Farm Champions Classic, four top-tier teams loaded with NBA-caliber talent will bring big-time basketball back to New York.

In the first game of the double-header, sixth-ranked Duke (2-0) will play Michigan State University (0-1). A Duke or MSU game is always notable in its own right, but tonight’s tilt is extra special. With a win, his 903rd, Coach Mike Krzyzewski would become the all-time winningest coach in DI history, passing his friend and mentor Bobby Knight. On a smaller scale, Blue Devil freshman Austin Rivers will be making his first visit to MSG. If he’s as good as we think, he’ll be coming back here as a player for years to come.

In the second and perhaps more highly anticipated matchup, second-ranked Kentucky (1-0) will take on 11th-ranked Kansas. There’s a lot of history between these two schools, but even if you’re not into the rivalry, there are still plenty of current reasons to watch. There are no fewer than six future NBA players on Kentucky’s roster, including freshmen phenoms Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.

There are a lot more storylines here and a lot more unnamed talent…but we’ll get to that later during the live blog. For now, let’s get to it!

GAME No. 1: Duke vs. Michigan State University

7:15 PM: Hey, it’s Tzvi. It’s a real pleasure to be here, following this game live with y’all. Sorry it took me so long to get set up, but it wasn’t as easy as you’d think to find my seat. The Garden is freshly renovated, after all.

7:19 PM: At the 15:45 mark, Duke has a 9-6 lead. Of equal or greater interest, on my way (I should say our way—Ben Osborne is here with me) to my seat I bumped into more than a few people in the NBA family. That list includes: Billy King (GM of the Nets), Herb Williams (assistant coach with the Knicks), Kris Stone (Under Armour), Pat Garrity, Stephen Curry and ex-NBAer Wally Szczerbiak.

7:25 PM: A technical foul was just called on Duke. After the shots, MSU leads 13-9.

7:29 PM: Judging by the abundance of KU/UK gear, a lot of fans are really here to see the later game. (That doesn’t mean they’re not enjoying this one, though.)

7:32 PM: At the 11:47 mark, MSU leads 16-12.

7:36 PM: Austin Rivers is back in the game for the Blue Devils. Let’s see what the young scoring machine has to offer tonight.

7:38 PM: Seth Curry, Steph’s little brother, steps to the line after drawing a foul on a mid-range jumper.

7:40 PM: Austin Rivers carries himself like he’s the best player on the court, but MSU’s Draymond Green may have the most polished (albeit unorthodox) game. Green’s yet to score tonight, though, but he does have two rebounds and two assists.

7:41 PM: After an Andre Dawkins three for Duke, we’re tied at 18 apiece.

7:45 PM: Frosh Branden Dawson leads MSU with 6 points. Dawkins leads Duke with 8. Game tied at 20, 7:42 to go in the half.

7:47 PM: Fan fav D. Green finished with a loud dunk in traffic. He’s a chunky 6-7, but he battles with the bigs nicely.

7:50 PM: A lot of people—us included—came here to watch Austin Rivers. Dawkins is stealing the show, though. He just hit another three, giving him 11 of Duke’s 25 points.

7:55 PM: Another three for Dawkins! Game is tied at 28; he has 14.

7:57 PM: Ben just spotted Spike Lee sitting baseline. Guess the director-slash-hoophead is fiending for hoops like the rest of us.

8:02 PM: Though he traveled on the last one he attempted, Mason Plumlee is showing off a nice little hook shot.

8:04 PM: All knotted up here at 31 with 1:27 left in the first half.

8:07 PM: Seth Curry just nailed a three. Duke is 6-11 from behind the line. MSU is 2-5.

8:09 PM: Brandon Wood hits a running floater from the baseline to end the half, bringing MSU to within one at the half. Despite being down 34-33, Coach Tom Izzo can’t be upset with where his team stands in this one.

8:21 PM: Ben just spotted Ex-Duke stars JJ Redick and Carlos Boozer walking around (separately) the Garden concourse. I’m sure these guys would much rather be playing NBA ball tonight, but it’s never bad when you get to come watch your alma mater play. Both guys were in town, I believe, for yesterday’s NBAPA trade union announcement. A slew of other guys who attended the meeting are supposedly in the house tonight.

8:23 PM: OK, the new, plush black seats at MSG are refilling and the action is about to resume in 120 quick ticks. Unranked MSU kept up with Duke for the first 20 minutes—can they do it for another 20 and pull out the victory?

8:27 PM: Draymond Green scores the first bucket of the half. He has 7. Austin Rivers, however, answers with his first made shot (it was a layup). He has 5. Duke by one still.

8:32 PM: MSU’s Brandons (or, Brandens) have a combined 17 points. They’re a major reason why Izzo’s squad is hanging tough.

8:34 PM: Andre Dawkins just came off another curl and…hit another three. He has 20 points thus far. On the flipside, Duke’s perimeter D was a big question mark coming into the game, and they’re struggling to keep MSU out of the paint so far this half. Something to keep an eye on.

8:38 PM: This is more like what was expected of this game. Duke’s picked up their scoring pace. They now lead by 7, 47-40. 15:18 left in the game.

8:41 PM: Seth Curry knocks down a three, Duke’s ninth of the night. Bucket by bucket, Duke is pulling away. They now have their largest lead of the game, 51-40. MSU needs to get regroup asap.

8:47 PM: Last time I watched a Curry brother play at the Garden while he was in college was December, 2009. On that evening, Stephen Curry shot 9-27 for Davidson in a win over West Virginia. So far this game, lil bro Seth is leaving me with some memories, too. He’s only 3-6 but has 12 points. Duke is up 53-40, 11:52 to go in the game.

8:53 PM: After sitting for the past seven minutes or so, Austin Rivers has checked back into the game. Blue Devils made their big push without him, so let’s see how he fits into the current flow. 55-41, Duke.

8:56 PM: Just heard fans a few rows behind us congratulate each other on Coach K’s record-setting 903rd win. We’re not going to give him kudos just yet, but it looks like he’ll probably pick up the historic W in this historic setting.

9:07 PM: 62-43, Duke. If you need to grab dinner before the Kentucky-Kansas game, now may be the time to do so.

9:18 PM: Brandon Wood, who transfered from Valparaiso after transferring from Southern Illinois, has been a bright spot for MSU. He’s been aggressive all night and has 15 points to show for it. With 2:55 left, Duke leads 67-54.

9:26 PM: Austin Rivers has been a non-factor for Duke this contest. Despite that, they have an 11-point lead with 1:21 to go. Pretty sure it’s over. Gonna run to press conference area to prep for Game 2. Catch you soon. Oh, and congrats to Coach K.

GAME No. 2: Kansas vs. Kentucky

10:00 PM: It’s wild that this game won’t start till well after 10 o’clock, but we’re excited nonetheless. Both rosters read like All-American lineups. Crowd’s hyped too. Louder in here when Kansas took the court than it was at any point during the earlier game.

10:02 PM: John Wall and DeMarcus “Boogie” Cousins are in the building.

10:05 PM: Lights have dropped. Stage is set. Here we go.

10:11 PM: Anthony Davis definitely has long arms. But they look even longer than they are because they’re disproportionally long from elbow on down. Optical illusion.

10:14 PM: Powerful dunk from Thomas Robinson, the most heralded prospect on Kansas. Sloppy but athletic start to game so far. Could turn into a 40-minute highlight reel. Wouldn’t be mad at that.

10:19 PM: Kansas off to a fast start. They lead 9-3 five minutes into the game.

10:23 PM: This crowd is so hype. Booing/cheering every call. State Farm picked the right teams to match up in the nightcap.

10:26 PM: Kentucky’s Davis and Kansas’ Robinson have been matched up a few times already in the paint. That battle is must-watch. Two highly capable guys with very different games right there.

10:29 PM: 11-10, Kentucky leads at the 11:24 mark.

10:36 PM: Mike Kidd-Gilchrist misses a contested fastbreak layup…only for Ant Davis to fly in and stuff it home. Right now, Kentucky looks ragged, raw…and scary talented. Kansas is playing them well, though. They’re swinging ball and hitting Js. If they keep it up, this could be a game for all 40 minutes. Right now, score stands 21-14, Kansas.

10:44 PM: Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. Still, so good. Maybe it’s because I’m suffering from basketball withdrawal, but I’m loving this game. So Many next level players. Yes, they look discombobulated and are trying to do too much. If you squint real hard, though, you can see some All-Star players out there. Trust me: Don’t turn this game off, at least not yet.

10:48 PM: For a dude his size, Ant Davis has surprisingly good hands. He’s picked at least three pockets, even if he hasn’t been credited with the steals.

10:53 PM: I’m really impressed by Kansas’ play so far. They’re playing so hard, you’d think it was March. And as talented as Kansas is, if they’re going to beat Kentucky, it’s going to be because they out-hustled them. Kansas leads 26-23, 2:15 until halftime.

10:57 PM: Terrence Jones just hit a slow, high-arcing three to tie the game. He celebrated accordingly.

11:00 PM: Kentucky’s been hassling Kansas’ point guards all game. They’ve stripped them at or near the three-point line five to 10 times. Problem is: They’ve only held onto three of four of them, and have converted only one or two of them. Still, good sign for Coach Cal.

11:01 PM: Both sides have 28 at the half. Thomas Robinson leads Kansas with 7 points and 4 rebounds. Terrence Jones has 9 and Ant Davis has 8 for Kentucky.

11:18 PM: Fourth and final half of the night about to begin. Leggo!

11:21 PM: Ant Davis with yet another steal. Ant Davis with yet another oop. It’s not my style to do this but I will: Remember where you heard about the young Chitown native first!

11:23 PM: Haven’t asked any of the scouts sitting near me, but I think it’s pretty obvious that Davis and Robinson (7 and 5) have been the two best players tonight. (Terrence Jones is giving Robinson hella hard time, though. Really playing him tough.)

11:26 PM: Marquis Teague, Jeff Teague’s baby brother and star freshman point guard, buries a three. Kentucky now enjoys a 39-30 lead, the largest margin so far this game.

11:28 PM: Mike Kidd-Gilchrist still has a hitch in shot. Tough. We thought he might’ve adjusted it over the summer.

11:30 PM: Ant Davis is raw, but he’s already one of the best defenders in college. Between his wingspan, quick hands and anticipation, he’s a walking, talking shot-blocking, ball-stealing demon.

11:35 PM: Kentucky’s building a nice little lead, sort of like Duke did at this point in Game 1 at MSG tonight. They now lead 45-32. 14:18 left in the game…and a “GO BIG BLUE” chant has broken out to boot.

11:38 PM: Ty Taylor just hit a J. He’s been held in check for the most part, though. Only has 8 points.

11: 39 PM: Doron Lamb hits back-to-back threes. The native of New York, known for his sharp shot, has 8 points. Kentucky by 14.

11:45 PM: Kentucky up by 15 now, but Kansas hasn’t thrown in the towel. Still hustling at both ends. Robinson has the weight of the world on his shoulders, but nothing can keep him down on the court.

11:51 PM: 59-45, Kentucky. Watch out now. Looking like they have chance to be special squad.

11:57 PM: Getting scrappy here. THomas Robinson and Terrence Jones just got into a minor tussle after the whistle. They were separated before anything real could happen. Crowds responds with now familiar chant of “GO BIG BLUE.”

12:02 AM: Kentucky now leads by 17 with 4:27 to go. Some seats are starting to empty. After all, it is a school night.

12:09 AM: Entering Day 2 of this liveblog, and Kentucky has a firm grip on this game. 68-52, 3:32 to go.

12:11 AM: Thomas Robinson fouls out. In the face of constant double-team, he finished with 11 and 10.

12:14 AM: This game’s a wrap. Good win for Kentucky. Head to the press conferences. Have a good night and take care.