Syracuse vs. St. John’s: The Battle of New York Hits The Empire Classic

Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint.

By David Cordova

Last week, the Empire Classic was the event to be at in New York City if you were interested in college basketball, especially since both of New York’s most prestigious Division I programs were in the event in Syracuse and St. John’s.

On Monday, both teams won their respective matchups against Richmond and Temple, respectively, setting up a battle for the following night at 9:30 PM. The scene was set for prime-time television, as both teams had plenty of history, dating back to their days in a particular conference.

On the website,, it states that since 1951, the Orangemen have a 49-38 edge over the Red Storm. But from 1979 through 2013, both teams were foes in the Big East Conference, playing each other multiple times per year, even in the Big East Tournament. Whether the games were played in the Carrier Dome (now the JMA Dome) in Syracuse or in Madison Square Garden, the feel for the game was electric. 

Syracuse freshman guard Judah Mintz looks to drive to the basket during the Empire Classic championship game. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

However, Tuesday night’s game would be played in the confines of the Barclays Center in downtown Brooklyn, before a crowd of nearly 6,000 spectators and a nationwide audience that tuned into ESPN. The question would then be answered: Who would earn the right to be known as “New York’s Team?”

From the opening tip, the electricity was felt in the building, and the action was intense throughout every possession. Even though it was a very close game, the momentum was on the side of the Orangemen, as they fed off the play of freshman guard Judah Mintz and the defense of senior forward Jesse Edwards and sophomore forward Mounir Hima, which at one point had Syracuse ahead, 19-8, with 11:19 to go in the first half.

However, St. John’s would continue to chip away at the lead of their counterparts through the play of junior guards Andre Curbelo and Posh Alexander, as well as the play of junior forward David Jones and senior center Joel Soriano. By halftime, the ‘Cuse would be up 35-29.

St. John’s forward David Jones hits a jumper from the perimeter during the championship game of the Empire Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

But then, the second half would see what both teams were made of. Early on in the second half, the Orangemen would be ahead by ten, 47-37, with 16:02 to go, as baskets by Mintz, Edwards and senior guard Joe Girard III would prove to be clutch for the boys from upstate New York. 

Although Hima would continue to make defensive stops for Syracuse, the Red Storm would not be deterred as they clawed their way back. Eventually taking over the lead, 53-52, after a three-point play by Jones with 9:28 to go in the half.

The Red Storm simply continued their assault on their counterparts, with even a couple of dunks by Soriano in between and their patented defense continuing to cause problems for Syracuse. There were a couple of times where it looked like the Red Storm would end the game early, but six consecutive points by Edwards would send the game into overtime, 65-65.

St. John’s center Joel Soriano throws down a ferocious dunk during the championship game of the Empire Classic. (Photo courtesy of Dave’s Joint)

Then in the extra period, plays by Jones and Soriano would be the deciding factor in the game, as the Orangemen tried to stay in the game with baskets and free throws by Edwards. But St. John’s would have the final say, knocking off their counterparts in OT, 76-69, taking home the Empire Classic championship, and remaining undefeated on the season at 6-0 (currently 7-0 going to their next matchup against LIU). 

To say it was a great game would be an understatement. It was a thriller, one that had the fans on the edge of their seats throughout the game. With every made basket, every call by the refs, the fans would either roar with applause or would voice their disappointment in various ways. 

This is New York City basketball in its finest. Or rather college basketball in New York City at its finest. The Orangemen would retire to Syracuse heading up north going 1-1 on their trip. However, it would be the Red Storm that would emerge victorious, earning the right to call themselves, “New York’s Team.”

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