It hasn’t been easy for St. John’s at their on-campus venue of Carnesecca Arena in recent times. Despite their .840 winning percentage on the corner of Union and Utopia, there have been many games that got away from the Johnnies in recent years. Mercifully, tonight was not one of them.
Playing the 500th game in Carnesecca’s illustrious history, and the first as a ranked team since November of 2000 amid being overshadowed in the local media due to the Knicks’ acquisition of Carmelo Anthony, the No. 23 Red Storm (18-9, 10-5 in the Big East) picked up right where they left off against fourth-ranked Pittsburgh last Saturday with a 76-51 victory over DePaul (7-20, 1-14). The win assured St. John’s of finishing above .500 in the Big East for the first time since the 2001-02 season, which is coincidentally the last year in which the Red Storm advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
“I thought our team answered the bell in terms of the challenge of sustaining the level of play we’ve had in the last eight games,” said head coach Steve Lavin, whose team has won seven of those last eight dating back to January 30th’s upset of reigning national champion Duke. “Tonight’s victory is an example of a team developing a hard edge and maturity that will bode well for us coming down the home stretch.” Dwight Hardy led all scorers with a game-high 21 points, the eleventh time Hardy has eclipsed the 20-point plateau, furthering his candidacy for the Big East Player of the Year award many assumed had already been engraved with the name of UConn’s Kemba Walker. When asked about the disparity between his team’s performance at Carnesecca compared to Madison Square Garden, (where the Johnnies are 7-1 this season) the senior from the Bronx had this to say:
“When we play here, we don’t play as well as we do at the Garden,” stated Hardy. “We didn’t want to let that happen tonight.” Although DePaul took a 7-6 lead four minutes into the game, it was the only advantage they had all night, as Hardy’s 8-of-13 shooting night coupled with the near-perfect effort from Paris Horne (14 points on 6-of-7 shooting) provided all the margin the Red Storm would need. Freshman Cleveland Melvin led the Blue Demons with 16 points and was the only DePaul player in double figures, as junior Jeremiah Kelly (nine points) was limited due to foul trouble, picking up his fourth early in the second half.
St. John’s takes its talents to the road for their next two games, first playing No. 14 Villanova this Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia before making the trip across the Hudson River to face Seton Hall in Newark one week from today. Now on a five-game winning streak, the Red Storm have left quite a few lasting impressions on tonight’s sellout crowd en route to the City of Brotherly Love, and here are some of them:
- Transition and proficient shooting were the biggest factors in the 25-point win. St. John’s managed a 54 percent effort from the field, (31-for-57) which negated their 61 percent clip at the free throw line. In addition, the Johnnies outscored DePaul 42-18 in the paint and 19-0 on fast breaks; with the icing on the cake being Dwayne Polee’s (eight points) alley-oop from Malik Boothe that put St. John’s up 30.
- Before tonight, the last three games at Carnesecca Arena had been decided by a grand total of five points. For the season, the total margin of victory on the corner of Union and Utopia was 26 points, just one more than this game’s 25-point cushion.
- A Big East Player of the Year candidate himself, Dwight Hardy said earlier in the season that his vote would go to Providence’s Marshon Brooks. For what it’s worth, Brooks set the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on fire with his Big East single-game record 52-point performance last night against Notre Dame, albeit in a losing effort as the Friars fell to the Fighting Irish 94-93.
- Here’s the key to victory that goes unnoticed: Jeremiah Kelly getting into foul trouble. Kelly’s sweet shooting was going to make or break the Blue Demons in this matchup, but he didn’t get many looks due to picking up his fourth foul early in the second half. Kelly finished with nine points, (all from beyond the arc) but credit the St. John’s defense for turning him into a nonfactor.
- Finally, Dwayne Polee and Paris Horne share the game ball tonight for most impressive contributions to the cause. Polee’s eight points provided one of the more productive games the freshman has had in quite some time, while Horne’s NBA-range three and 360-degree slam in the second half slowly put the Blue Demons away.