Celebration broken up after Duke win

As a crowd began to form, ready to rush the court once the final horn sounded on the men’s basketball team’s 93-78 win over Duke on Jan. 30, senior Bill Brusca tried to stay near the middle of the group, where he felt he and his girlfriend would be safe.

But as the group pushed toward the court, Brusca and his girlfriend were pushed with it, and were met with return strife from Madison Square Garden ushers who, as first reported by the New York Post, restrained the students using excessive force and profanity.

“My foot got stuck under a chair, so I couldn’t really move,” Brusca said. “I tried to free myself but I turn around and an usher’s got his hands around my neck going, ‘What the [expletive] are you doing?’

“I looked around and saw kids getting punched, a friend of mine had a mark below his eye,” Brusca said. “I saw some girls get trampled by ushers. One usher was just throwing punches.”

Another student, junior David Puswald, said that although he was among the few that reached the court, he was pushed back into the crowd by ushers when he tried to exit the arena.

“This is college basketball,” Puswald said. “After a win like that, it’s the norm. People storm the court. That’s what happens.”

While he acknowledged that ushers are likely most concerned with the safety of players and coaches on court, Brusca said the crowd would have remained safe if the students had been allowed to rush the court.

“I was at the Fordham game, and their fans rushed the floor and it was organized and safe because there was no congestion in trying to leave or hold people back,” Brusca said.

Such harsh treatment had become expected from Garden ushers, according to Brusca, but never with the kind of physical force he and other students experienced after the Duke game.

Brusca was only able to identify the usher who grabbed him as “Paul J,” but filed a complaint with the Garden anyway.  

 “I’ve been kicked out [of MSG] because I’ve been in the wrong seat,” he said. “I’ve seen kids get kicked out of the student section for not sitting down. It’s just a shame that that’s what the talk was about after the game.”

An email to Garden officials was not immediately returned.

St. John’s senior associate athletics director of Communications Mark Fratto told the Torch that the school was still reviewing the matter and would issue a formal statement later this week.  

According to Brusca, St. John’s athletic director Chris Monasch told him that Garden officials still were reviewing security tapes of the game’s aftermath but if nothing was done in a timely fashion, he’d request the tapes and review them himself.

“We expect all of our student fans to behave appropriately at games and in compliance with university, Big East and NCAA policies,” Fratto said.

“We also trust that the professional security staff at Madison Square Garden will exercise reasonable judgment when performing its duties. The goal is to maximize the game experience for everyone, and protect the safety of game participants and fans.”

Fratto also said the athletic department would create video messages reinforcing NCAA policies prohibiting fan interaction with playing surfaces, likely to feature men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin, as well as fliers to be placed around the University promoting fan safety at future athletic events.

Brusca said he would not press charges against either the school or the Garden, as had initially been reported in the Post, but would like to see the ushers involved disciplined by MSG.

“None of this blame at all is going to St. John’s—I want to stress that,” Brusca said. “This has nothing to do with St. John’s. It’s an MSG thing. If they think they can just beat up kids like that, well, whatever helps them sleep at night, I guess.”