It’s Better The Second Time Around

Many film enthusiasts say the sequel is rarely a better movie than the original when a second edition is produced; and despite some notable exceptions, that analysis is correct for the most part.  However, this adage does not translate the same to the hardwood; and when you play the same team twice in an eight-day span, you’re bound to get different results each time, and that’s what St. John’s did this afternoon.

DJ Kennedy paced St. John's to victory ending a two game losing streak by the Redstorm. (Icon SMI)

Just one week and one day removed from a 15-point loss contested while a blizzard was raging outside the Joyce Center in South Bend, the Johnnies (11-5, 4-2 in the Big East) controlled the storm (no pun intended) inside Madison Square Garden en route to a convincing 72-54 victory over ninth-ranked Notre Dame.  (14-4, 3-3)  In a game that was as pedestrian in its opening stages as it was exciting and revealing toward the end, two players who were lost in the shuffle in recent times stood out today. D.J. Kennedy returned to his old form with 14 points and eight rebounds, while Malik Boothe chipped in with 14 of his own to lead the charge from Steve Lavin’s bench.  While the headline will no doubt be Kennedy’s resurgence, Boothe surprised many of the fans in attendance with his offensive prowess, even draining two three-pointers.  ”He’s someone that can apply the jumper cables to your team because of his ball pressure,” said Lavin of his 5-9 point guard, who was just as solid on the defensive side of the ball as he was offensively. Regarding Kennedy, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said after the game that the senior “did what a main guy who’s a senior does. I told him after the game what a great career he’s had.”

Notre Dame was unable to get into an effective rhythm in the first half as the Red Storm took a 26-19 lead into the break amid a game that wasn’t the easiest on the eyes given the low scoring and abundance of fouls. However, the Fighting Irish showed signs of life in the second half before St. John’s pulled away despite never holding a lead in this game. Ben Hansbrough’s layup with 13:20 left in regulation made it a 37-31 game; but a Kennedy three on the other end meant that the six-point deficit was as close as the Irish would get, as the No. 9 team in the country was done in by a lackluster 3-of-15 effort from beyond the arc, well below their season average as a team. “They have a chance to be extremely good,” said Hansbrough, whose 18 points led the way for Notre Dame in the losing effort.  The praise didn’t stop there, as head coach Mike Brey said the Johnnies “defended the heck out of us.  We had problems with their full and half court pressure.  They are men and they played like men, but they treated us like boys tonight.”

Already the owners of two road wins in the Big East, St. John’s shoots for a third this Wednesday when they make their maiden voyage to the Yum! Center for a matchup with Louisville.  The Red Storm got the better of the Cardinals last season at the Garden, and this matchup has a little more juice for reasons besides Louisville’s new 20,000+ seat arena.  If you remember, St. John’s received one first-place vote in the Big East preseason poll unveiled at October’s media day.  The vote came from Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino, who calmly and honestly explained his rationale by citing the Johnnies’ talent, style, experience and hunger; the last element being derived from the fact that not one player on this roster has been to an NCAA Tournament.

Now, in a reprisal of the new feature that debuted in this space following the Syracuse game Wednesday night, here are some lasting impressions from the matinee at the Garden that resulted in conference win No. 4 for St. John’s.

Lasting Impressions

  • Some people will compare this game to the Notre Dame game from two seasons ago where the Irish came in ranked No. 7 and were upset by the Norm Roberts-led Johnnies 71-65, but it looked more like last year’s Louisville game in that not many were expecting the Johnnies to do more than just hold their own against a ranked team.  St. John’s controlled the tempo from the opening tip and didn’t let up, something they also did two weeks ago against West Virginia and Georgetown.
  • When D.J. Kennedy is actively involved, it’s a completely different atmosphere on the court.  There have been times this season where Kennedy single handedly attempted to take the game over.  Although he didn’t do that today per se, his three with 12:56 remaining put St. John’s ahead 40-31 and killed any hope of a Notre Dame rally.  This shot could be considered the turning point of the game.
  • Once again, the Storm put their free throw shooting struggles to bed, making 24 of their 29 attempts in the win today.  In fact, the Johnnies haven’t shot lower than 70 percent from the line since the infamous loss at Fordham on December 11th, where they were 11-for-18 at the charity stripe.
  • For all those who feel Notre Dame has a Jekyll and Hyde complex, you may be right.  The Irish are 3-0 on their home court at the Joyce Center with wins over Georgetown, UConn and St. John’s; but 0-3 away from South Bend with losses at Syracuse, Marquette and St. John’s.
  • Finally, when Notre Dame fell to St. John’s back in January 2009, the loss started a seven-game losing streak that ultimately cost the Irish a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  Now on a two-game schneid including the Marquette loss, Notre Dame gets Cincinnati and Marquette at home (not exactly cupcakes) before traveling to the Petersen Center to take on No. 5 Pitt a week from tomorrow.  If Mike Brey’s team doesn’t stop the bleeding, they could be looking at a potential five-game slide that will be very difficult to make up.