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But the game may have been decided much sooner, with 15:07 to go, when Villanova spark plug McLain left with a sprained ankle during the first St. John's rally. With McLain out, Stewart Granger had to move to the point, where he caused some mindless turnovers, while burly Center John Pinone forced shots, hitting just three of 13 from the floor, and Wildcat all-conference Forward Ed Pinckney became all-invisible—attempting only five shots and sinking only two down the stretch.
Mullin, who uncharacteristically had missed a free throw at the end of a Villanova-St. John's game in Philly last month, enabling Pinone to bury a game-winning prayer at the buzzer that cost St. John's the Big East regular season title outright, felt vindicated this time. He scored 29 points, 25 in the Redmen's 62-point second half, which Carnesecca summed up as "surgery" or "hands in the pie" or "like Paganini playing with one string—paradise," depending on when a listener caught his monologue.
If all these teams and coaches and players and mascots—would there were time to describe the cuddly, furry, repulsive Syracuse Orange—sound familiar, it may be because the Big Beast, as conference wags are fond of calling their baby, undoubtedly has come wandering down the cable brick road into the confines of your own home this winter.
The fact is, the fervent atmosphere and SRO crowds at the Garden along with the TV exposure and gobs upon gobs of dollars (league officials predict a cool $1.4 million windfall for the schools and the conference from last week's event) all melded to create a spectacular climax to the conference's four-year pursuit of that beacon of intercollegiate marketing, the ACC. BIG BEAST BITES APPLE; JUICE FLOWS, is how Variety might have bannered it.
Big East Commissioner Dave Gavitt admittedly used the ACC tournament as a model, and he proudly measured its success in New York. "How about this?" Gavitt said one day, surveying another full house. "First time Frank McGuire [the former coach at North Carolina and now director of intercollegiate athletics for the Garden] has passed up the ACC tournament in 29 years."
Unlike many of college basketball's nouveau riche, those alphabet-soup and hyphenated leagues that are inhabited by institutions of higher learning previously sniffed out only by police dogs, the Big East from the git-go incorporated a bunch of traditional powers sitting there just panting to group-boogie. The result was that after Villanova and Pitt joined the seven charter members, the Big East not only possessed immediate credibility—every conference school except Seton Hall has been to the NCAA tournament at least six times and the Hall has made merely nine visits to the NIT—but enormous clout, too.
The Big East now rears its massive head in five of the top 12 national TV markets and can claim an audience estimated at 30% of the nation's TV homes. This season 69 of the 72 Big East regular-season games were televised somewhere in America, usually four nights a week and on Saturday afternoons for the kiddies as well. And you thought Richard Simmons was impossible to escape.
But, then, no true hoop aficionado would want to miss the Big East show. In its first three years seven of the conference's current teams appeared in postseason play, and everyone recalls how Georgetown, Villanova and Boston College stayed alive a year ago into the NCAA final eight and how the Hoyas came within an errant pass of winning the whole shebang.
Last Sunday the NCAA selection committee confirmed the league's high standing by naming five Big East teams—the only conference besides the Big Ten so honored—to the 1983 tournament field. Those five—St. John's (seeded No. 1 in the East), BC (No. 4 in the West), Villanova (No. 3 in the Midwest), Georgetown (No. 5 in the Midwest) and Syracuse (No. 6 in the East)—have won a total of 114 games.
The sagacious Gavitt had previewed this postseason carnival out of town for three years—Providence, Syracuse and Hartford were the off-Broadway warmup spots—before selling it for three more to the Garden. Each conference school received an equal allotment of tickets to sell, Amtrak operated what amounted to a Big East Express from Boston, Providence, New Haven, Washington and Philadelphia right into Penn Station, which is conveniently located in the bowels of the Garden, and all four of the main sessions were practically sold out months ago. The Big East's only bomb was an ill-fated Wednesday night game (free with the rest of the package) between eighth-place Providence and ninth-place Seton Hall, which, competing against the Nets and Knicks in New Jersey, Bette Midler at Radio City and other enticements, drew roughly 5,500 friends and relatives. The Pirates got the tournament off to a zany start by upsetting the Friars 73-64 and then taking a shocking 10-point halftime lead against Boston College before losing 79-56.