The Rough and Tumble Big East Was Back for One Night

Chris Mullin, Patrick Ewing Jr., and John Thompson all feuded Wednesday night in Madison Square Garden, just like the good old days.

by Patrick Sauer
Mar 9 2017, 4:10pm

"In the Big East, [St. John's] was the good guys. We [Georgetown] were the ones with the black hats that everybody hated. In every story, you have to have a villain, and that was us." —Patrick Ewing, 30 For 30: Requiem for the Big East

Let's make one thing clear: compared to what was going on during the height of the Chris Mullin/Patrick Ewing/Lou Carnesecca/John Thompson days, the "hard foul" shove committed by St. John's forward Amar Alibegovic on the Hoyas' L.J. Peak Wednesday night was a love tap.

That's fine, and probably as it should be—many of the those Reagan-era on-court muggings in the Big East led to choppy, erratic play. But the ensuing dust-up between St. John's and Georgetown on the floor? That was so much goddamn nostalgic fun.

Chris Mullin, John Thompson III (with Pops sitting courtside), and Patrick Ewing Jr. were gnashing teeth, jawing at one another, drawing technicals, and taking the entire packed Madison Square Garden back to the future.

The funny thing is, it was an early Big East tournament game between two teams with losing records whose seasons will be done after Villanova disperses with the Red Storm in a couple hours. It was the utter definition of meaningless, yet the Garden drew a huge crowd, much bigger than when I saw St. John's wax Marquette there a month ago. It wasn't the packed-to-the-rafters showdown of March 9, 1985, when the AP's No. 1 ranked Hoyas beat the No. 3 (then) Redmen 92-80 (they would meet again in the Final Four, which ended in a 77-59 Georgetown win)—but as two floundering programs go, it was a pretty cool 2017 facsimile. St. John's walked away with the victory this time, edging out Georgetown 74-73.

But back to the brawl. Just reading this passage from Kevin Armstrong of The Daily News makes me giddy:

"Both benches emptied with over eight minutes left in the second half. Referees restored order, but not before Mullin was assessed a technical. Ewing Jr., son of the Georgetown and Knicks legend, was given one too. Alibegovic was hit with a Flagrant 1 technical for his two-handed foul across Peak's shoulders. It all unspooled with Thompson Jr. sitting courtside, his image a reminder of when he used to battle Lou Carnesecca. Those days were about sweaters and players take swings at each other. Wednesday night never reached that point, though one Hoya partisan shouted, 'The Big East is back!' Cheers, shouts, whistles and hollers from all hues made the rafters ring like few other hoop bouts in recent Garden memory."

I have no idea why 1980s Big East basketball has such a hold on me. I grew up in Montana (which actually explains everything). But yep, some baseball scribe nailed it this morning.

It's true, we are a middle-age community that includes Ewing, Mullin, and Ezra Edelman who just won the Oscar for his already-iconic O.J. Simpson documentary, which came on the heels of Requiem for the Big East.

Wednesday night was a good moment, but I'm gonna keep walking the memory lane of 8th Ave. until Nova-St. John's tip off in the 21st century at noon. Join me in digging on these 1985 Big East tournament highlights, oddly without sound. I recommend syncing it up with this extended version of Run-D.M.C.'s "King of Rock," the backbeat to the New York City playgrounds that year. It's from Live Aid, which makes perfect sense if the names Horace Broadnax and Willie Glass mean anything to you.

The 80s are back, baby!*

*Yes, we are fully aware of what that means.

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