It’s a Hardy Knock Life

St. John’s, playing their third game in a span of six days, showed that they could not only take a punch, but also punch harder and stronger. The Red Storm (10-3, 3-0 in the Big East) knocked off the #13 Georgetown Hoyas (12-3, 1-2) by a score of 61-58 for their third straight Garden win over the Hoyas dating back to March 2009. As the Garden shook with excitement; St. John’s saw one of their best and most excited home crowds in years.

The win was the third straight for the Johnnies to open Big East play, adding to the buzz that has surrounded the program since Steve Lavin was introduced as the head coach in late March. It is the biggest win since the new leader returned to the sideline. Referring to the electric atmosphere in Madison Square Garden, an ecstatic Steve Lavin said, “it’s one of the real reasons why I came back.”

The dynamic scorer Dwight Hardy took advantage of his opportunity to play on the ball tonight with starting point guard Malik Boothe out with a hamstring injury. (Icon SMI)

The inconsistent Red Storm team that struggled in December losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham has  found swagger and poise that eluded them early in the season, as the senior-laden squad adjusted to Steve Lavin and his staff. Reigning Big East player of the Week Dwight Hardy added another 20-point game to his impressive ledger, his fourth straight and sixth in his last seven games. Justin Brownlee contributed another well-rounded performance to the victory, finishing with 15 points to go with his seven rebounds and five assists.

Perhaps none of his contributions were more significant than his knockout blow. Brownlee had a tough offensive rebound of Hardy’s miss and followed with a layup with seven seconds to go in regulation, putting St. John’s ahead 59-58.  The Hoyas had a chance to win in those final seconds, but Brownlee blocked a layup attempt from Austin Freeman (6 points, 2-10 shooting). Georgetown fouled Hardy, whose two free throws (he was a perfect 10-for-10 at the line) provided the final margin.

“Hardy’s kind of been the hot hand,” said Lavin, offering an explanation for Hardy’s offensive consistency. ”You try to encourage him, something like Burgess Meredith in the ‘Rocky’ movies.”

When asked about his comfort level this year, compared to last year, when he arrived at St. John’s, Dwight Hardy remarked that “it’s elevated by a major amount.”

As is usually the case in a matchup between the Johnnies and Hoyas, defense was the game’s key factor. St. John’s was exploited early by Georgetown’s willingness and ability to attack their zone defense in the first half. But those windows closed, and the Hoyas were unable to effectively adjust as the game went on. St. John’s kept their hands and eyes up and took advantage of the Hoyas’ struggles. The Johnnies forced 13 turnovers from a normally solid ball-handling Georgetown squad, scoring 17 points off those miscues.

St. John’s won the game at the charity stripe, converting 18 free throws to the Hoyas’ 14, making their first eleven attempts. Hollis Thompson led the Hoyas with 16 in the losing effort, playing through foul trouble in the second half. The Hoya backcourt trio of Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark was shut down by the hostile and active Red Storm defense.  Averaging 46 points per game this season, the threesome was held to a total of 20 points. Wright and Clark tallied seven each; Big East preseason player of the year Freeman only managed 6.

St. John’s hits the road once again after their successful homecoming, heading into the Joyce Center in South Bend to take on 15th-ranked Notre Dame as they look to win their fourth straight Big East contest and sixth overall. The Johnnies defeated the Fighting Irish on the road last year on two last-second free throws from D.J. Kennedy, walking out of Indiana with a 69-68 victory. St. John’s has won both of its road games in the Big East and is brimming with confidence… now they try for road win number three.