Spartans excited to play in “mecca” of basketball at B1G tourney

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NEW YORK — Big Life. Big Stage. Big Ten.

Big Apple?

Geographically, the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament does not seem to belong here in New York City. As commissioner Jim Delaney attempts to expand the conference’s reach toward the population-dense East coast, the tournament typically held in Midwestern metropolises like Chicago and Indianapolis was moved to the Eastern seaboard.

Fan reaction has been mostly negative, to say the least. An image showing the directions and distances of the 14 Big Ten schools from historic Madison Square Garden went viral during the week, showing the general dissatisfaction among Midwestern fans that the conference tournament was being held in a city not central to the traditional conference footprint.

But that doesn’t seem to matter to players around the conference, including those from the outright conference champions at Michigan State.

The Spartans were generally adamant that the tournament’s location is no bother at all following Friday’s 63-60 quarterfinal victory over Wisconsin in their first game of the tournament following a double-bye.

“It’s been great,” sophomore guard Josh Langford said. “To have the Big Ten tournament here in the Big Apple is really unbelievable. This is the mecca of basketball. To be in this area is just a blessing to be a part of this, and something I’m really gonna cherish for the rest of my life.”

The fourth edition of the Madison Square Garden was built in 1968 and has hosted hundreds of events each year. Celebrating its 50th year as the epicenter of basketball in America’s largest city, it has a special place for every up-and-coming basketball player, according to the Spartans.

“It’s crazy,” junior guard Matt McQuaid said after playing his second game at the venue—the first being a 69-48 loss to Kentucky last season. “Every basketball player dreams of playing here.”

Although it is widely known as a popular concert destination and has hosted several other sports like boxing and hockey, “The Garden” is most notably the home of the NBA’s New York Knicks, who won two league titles in the 1970s.

“Especially for all of us watching the NBA so often, this is one of the [central] places for everyone to play,” redshirt sophomore guard Conner George said. “Everyone wants to play at the Madison Square Garden, so this is really cool. Being in their locker room and seeing their names on the walls, it’s where a lot of people are striving to be one day, so it’s just cool.”

One of the Spartans striving to get to the Garden as a pro is Miles Bridges, who dropped a team-high 20 points in the victory. He echoed the “mecca” comparison when explaining the building’s place in the players’ hearts.

“We’re definitely excited we get to play here for a championship at the mecca of basketball,” the projected lottery pick said before quickly refocusing to the game itself. “We had to get some first-game jitters out of the way. But I feel like once we got that out of the way we got comfortable and we got going.”

But while MSG holds a unique distinction for basketball players, not every Spartan was as enamored with the Big Apple itself.

“It’s a beautiful city, but this is a place I could not live,” co-captain and Bahamian native Tum Tum Nairn said through chuckles. “It’s too big. It’s so fast-paced. I wouldn’t choose to live here… So many people walking around, so many big buildings. I’m from the island, so I’ve never seen any of that growing up.”

Still, Nairn agreed with his teammates that the Garden is a thrill once you set foot on the hardwood.

“This arena, so many great players have played here,” he said. “Just being a kid from the Bahamas, getting the opportunity to step on that floor is a blessing.”

So while many complaints about the location of the Big Ten tournament have flowed in from fans and media members—amplified by the Nor’easter storm that cancelled hundreds of flights into the Big Apple (including two for Impact Sports)—the Big Ten players don’t seem to mind the location at all.

In the city that never sleeps, the Big Ten is looking to awake a metropolitan area with a smattering of fans from each of its schools. According to Spartan players, that should not be as tough as it sounds.