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Despite the Loss, A Win For Rams at The Garden

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Image Credit: Fordham Athletics

Fordham coach Keith Urgo and his counterpart Rick Pitino shook hands in a corridor late Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. Pitino, the veteran and Hall of Fame coach saw his St, John’s Red Storm get the 77-55 win at the 2023 Holiday Festival.

The Red Storm kept their perfect 9-0 record intact against Fordham at the Holiday Festival, though the game between two historic New York College basketball teams has a share of more than one hiatus. Pitino and Urgo agreed the game should be played every year on the Garden court, so perhaps they will do it again next December and it’s appropriate with St. John’s of the Big East Conference and Fordham representing the Atlantic-10.

“Fan base, incredible experience, a dream come true for any coach to coach in the world’s most famous arena,” Urgo commented when asked. “Pitino wants to do it every year and get it locked in.”

Two prominent schools with a strong presence of alumni support and there is every reason to believe an annual meeting at the Garden is forthcoming. Urgo in his second year continues to rejuvenate the Rams. Of course, Pitino with all of his success, is looking to lead the Red Storm back to the NCAA Tournament in his first year after coming over from Iona College and leading five other schools to the Big Dance.

A Garden official informed me there would be movement to lock in a deal for next year, whether it be the Holiday Classic or a non-conference game on the home schedule for St. John’s. There is a history here. The Red Storm lead the all-time series, 67-22 and they last faced each other at Carnesecca Arena two years ago in December.

Regardless, two storied programs on the same court meant something for the coaches, players, and alumni. Lots of Red Storm presence and a good many in Rams’ maroon. Though from the early going this was all St. John’s and it stayed that way except for the final two minutes of the first half when Fordham made a run.

One other storyline to this Garden meeting was former Ram Joel Soriano. The preseason all Big East first team selection continued to be a top leading scorer and rebounder in his second year with the Red Storm and finished with 21 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

Soriano said about his court reunion with Fordham “Feel pretty good but today it wasn’t about that.” His concern is preparing for their Big East conference schedule that begins next Saturday at, 10-1 UConn.

Fordham didn’t post highlights to YouTube so this is all we got here. Sorry Rams nation.

St. John’s (7-3) scored the first eight points of the game for a 11-2 lead and led by as many as 18. But Urgo had his Rams (5-6) using different defensive moves and off transition, closed the half on a 10-4 run narrowing the gap to 39-28 at the half.

That run would continue going into the second half as two fan bases were heard in the almost capacity filled Garden. Not enough, though, for Fordham as their relatively young roster during their non conference win and loss to North Texas State and Tulane respectively, continue to prepare them for their upcoming A-10 Conference schedule that begins January 3 at George Washington.

And this non conference loss for the Rams had those positive points. The Rams got to the free throw line often and converted 23 of 26 (88.5%) that Pitino said was a concern for the Red Storm. Joshua Rivera had a team high 15 points and his front court partner Abdou Tsimbila also led with 12, seven rebounds and two blocked shots.

“Played hard, gave up too much of a lead in the first half so that is hard to overcome,” Urgo said. “We also got a bunch of turnovers and converted on the other end.”

Rivera, a sophomore, at one point in the first half, earned all six of his points from the charity stripe, going 9-10- overall and that is not going unnoticed. Urgo continues to see improvement and so did Pitino. A part of this Fordham-St. John’s history has always been one or two players coming into their own and the Garden atmosphere also plays a role.

“He’s getting to the line, putting a lot of energy and effort,” Urgo said about Rivera. “He’s continued to develop. A lot of young guys excited about their growth.”

And that growth can only improve with Rivera, Urgo starting his seniors Kyle Rose, Tsimbila, Abtrell Charlton, and Japhet Medor. The constant changing of the Rams’ defense was also something that frustrated Pitino, though the coach had praise for Urgo.

Urgo and the Rams continue to build, perhaps and soon a conference championship will come to Rose Hill. For now, though, it’s preparing for conference play and finishing with non conference opponents the next two weeks at home against Central Connecticut State and Columbia.

But Saturday it was about Fordham and St. John’s at Madison Square Garden, a game that is fit for New York and will eventually be a lock.

Reprinted with permission via

Rich Mancuso: X (Formerly Twitter) @Ring786 Mancuso

About the Author

Rich Mancuso

Rich Mancuso is a regular contributor at NY Sports Day, covering countless New York Mets, Yankees, and MLB teams along with some of the greatest boxing matches over the years. He is an award winning sports journalist and previously worked for The Associated Press, New York Daily News, Gannett, and, in a career that spans almost 40 years.

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