It’s more than just a game, and it’s more than just an arena.
Georgia Tech’s trip to New York to play in the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden hasn’t been taken lightly by the Yellow Jackets. After beating Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday night, Tech players saw playing in “the world’s most famous arena,” as MSG is humbly billed, as a treat unto itself.
“First of all, it was a blessing to play here,” guard Justin Moore said. “I think just playing in Madison Square Garden was energy.”
When Tech players came to the arena in the early afternoon Tuesday for a shootaround, they let down their guards. Banners honoring Knicks and Rangers greats hang from the rafters. It was the home court for NBA greats Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Patrick Ewing, among others. Elvis Presley, John Lennon and U2 have performed there. It has hosted the NBA Finals, the Stanley Cup Finals, Democratic and Republican conventions, the Big East Tournament and more.
“I think during shootaround, I soaked in everything,” Moore said.
Tech has played in some noteworthy college basketball arenas this season alone — Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium, VCU’s Siegel Center and Syracuse’s Carrier Dome. This was a little different.
“When we were here for shootaround, I kind of looked around because this place is so huge,” center Ben Lammers said. “I’ve played in some big stadiums, but this is one of the biggest ones I’ve played in. It’s been fun.”
The immensity of the arena, which seats 19,812 for basketball, caught Lammers flush.
“Just the size, mostly, how tall it is and how far it goes back,” he said. “Because, I mean, a place like UNC and all those places hold 20,000 some people, so I’m somewhat used to this, but this seems like so much space.”
The entire trip has been different than most trips. After a week of spring break that included Tech’s win at Ole Miss on March 21 in an NIT quarterfinal, the Jackets flew to New York on Sunday. They’re staying in Times Square and have been permitted time to go exploring.
“There’s so many places to go to,” he said. “They give us enough time to walk around and explore a little bit and try to see New York City, which is nice. Sometimes you go to these cool places, but you can’t do anything because you’re always playing basketball.”
Among his discoveries — an ice cream shop called 10Below.
“It’s almost like they start off with milk and they pour it on this cold slab and spread it out a lot and scrape it off and it would come up in rolls,” Lammers said.
The Tuesday win affords the Jackets more time to explore and another night in the Garden.
“Just the air,” forward Quinton Stephens said. “You can’t help but love playing here. It’s a basketball player’s dream.”