Credit: Lois Elfman photo

It was Gary Blair’s first loss at Madison Square Garden. As an assistant coach at Louisiana Tech, he’d won twice; three years ago, as head coach of Texas A&M University, he watched his players ride a decisive victory over Rutgers University to a magical season that culminated with the NCAA title. But on Dec. 22, St. John’s simply outmaneuvered the Aggies, scoring a stunning 72-70 victory.

Red Storm sophomore guard Aliyyah Handford from Newark, N.J., had 27 points. “Very, very proud of her,” said her aunt Nicole Handford. “We’ve been watching her play since she was like 5 years old, so to see her make it this big is really good,” said her aunt Camille Shipley. Handford seemed nonplussed to have had such a great game; she said she just played hard.

“I’m glad we have everybody back healthy. I’m glad I could contribute to this team,” said fifth year senior guard Eugeneia McPherson, returning from a torn ACL. Coach Joe Tartamella was pleased that the entire team got to play. “I knew they were going to compete, but today they finished … against a top-notch opponent,” he noted.

The Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair went on during the day. Liberty guard Essence Carson, who played in the Maggie Dixon Classic when she was at Rutgers, was on hand to promote the Liberty’s return to the Garden in 2014 and help raise awareness about heart health.

“It’s great to have the Go Red for Women/American Heart Association here putting out the word about heart disease, the number one killer for women,” said Carson. “[Playing in this event] teaches you to value life, to value everything that comes your way, to cherish the moment and cherish those that are around you.”

“The family’s passion to carry on Maggie’s legacy and for people to remember her for all of her goodwill is just breathtaking,” said Tracey Ryan, recipient of the Maggie Dixon Courage Award.

In the second game of the women’s college doubleheader, the University of Connecticut soundly drubbed the University of California 80-47. UConn sophomore forward Breanna Stewart scored a stunning 29 points in 27 minutes of play.