The Dukes of Midtown

St. John’s had been waiting for a marquee win since the end of the Mike Jarvis era.  Two coaches and nearly eight years later, the program finally has one.

With suffocating defense and five players scoring in double figures, the Johnnies (12-8) fed off a sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden to shock the world with a 93-78 upset win over third-ranked reigning national champion Duke. (19-2)  The Red Storm played solid, fundamentally sound basketball through the first half; and did not rest on their laurels after taking a 21-point cushion into the intermission.  In fact, the Johnnies came on stronger than ever despite being outscored 53-47 over the final stanza.  The sellout and win over Duke were accomplishments last seen prior to today on March 2, 2003; when Marcus Hatten made a game-winning free throw with no time left on the clock to give St. John’s a one-point win at the “World’s Most Famous Arena.”

Sean Evans contributed his best effort of the season having a perfect shooting night 5-5 for 10 points off the bench. (Redstormsports.com)

“I thought our team from the outset executed with great precision,” said a visibly overjoyed Steve Lavin after the game.  ”We’re always making progress, but you don’t always see that because there are losses.”  While Lavin can be forgiven for exulting in his team’s biggest win of the season; his players adhered to the pragmatic values imparted by the coaching staff at the start of the season.  ”It helps out a lot confidence-wise; but at the end of the day, it only counts as one win,” said Justin Burrell; who contributed eight points and five rebounds off the bench.  Dwight Hardy led the Storm with 26 points on 9-of-13 shooting, while Justin Brownlee added 20 points and nine rebounds.  However, in the opposing locker room, the coach who will eventually become the winningest of all time offered his own insight on the team from the corner of Union and Utopia.

“They had a great game plan,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They have had outstanding games this season, and this was one of them.  In order to beat them today, we would have had to show up and be ready to compete at the level we normally compete at.”  Duke did get 32 points from Nolan Smith to lead all scorers, as well as 20 from fellow senior Kyle Singler; but the Blue Devils were done in by their inefficiency from beyond the arc, ending the game 5-for-26 from three-point range after missing all but one of their first 21 trifecta attempts. On the contrary, St. John’s only attempted five triples, making three; and stunningly, the Red Storm did not attempt a single three in the second half. Buoyed by a 58 percent (32-for-55) effort from the field and scoring 28 points off 17 Duke turnovers, the Johnnies improved to 7-0 on the season when at least four players score ten or more points.

St. John’s finishes their eight-game run against Top 25 opponents with a 3-5 record, and plays two more games this week; their next one coming Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena against a Rutgers team that nearly upset No. 2 Pittsburgh Saturday night in Piscataway before hitting the road to face UCLA in Steve Lavin’s much-anticipated homecoming.

After a big win like this, it’s not easy to find a starting point to analyze it; but after such an emotional high, there will definitely be enough lasting impressions to go around the Queens campus for the next few days.

Lasting Impressions

  • St. John’s unleashed its transition game once again, and once again it was a monster on the court.  The Johnnies outscored Duke 50-30 in the paint while also scoring 28 points off the Blue Devils’ 17 turnovers.  A great deal of the transition success was fueled by bench scoring, a category St. John’s picked up a victory in by the count of 22-14.
  • Paris Horne.  The guard that Steve Lavin has referred to as the “Energizer bunny” was exactly that today, scoring 15 points and facilitating numerous plays that won’t show up in the box score.
  • The Red Storm players have recognized their inability to effectively close to the three-point line throughout the season, a negative they were able to hold at bay for forty minutes at the Garden this afternoon.  Duke was consistently flustered beyond the arc and could not get a triple to fall until late in the second half.  The reigning national champions made four of their last five long-range shots, but missed 20 of their first 21.
  • After the Georgetown game, it looked like Dwight Hardy had started to cool off after his 4-for-16 effort in the loss to the Hoyas.  After today, Hardy looks to have found his hot streak again.  A 9-for-13 effort from the field coupled with a perfect 6-of-6 day at the free throw line can only mean that the senior became reacquainted with his shooting touch over the weekend.
  • The turning point of this game came early in the first half when Steve Lavin decided to bring Sean Evans into the game to compete against Duke’s oversized frontcourt of Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee.  Evans only played 11 minutes, but scored 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting.  Duke was unable to find an answer for Evans to the point where they played the majority of the game with a three-guard lineup, frequently using Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins in their rotation.  Said Justin Burrell of Evans’ play: “We were really excited about him coming out and playing the way he did today, and he really lifted our team.”

This game also marked my Big East Volvo Weekend. I was able to fly in my best friend and roommate from St. John’s, Eddie, in from Miami where he is attending Law school to see the game with me. Volvo put us up in a nice little hotel in Tribeca right by head coach Steve Lavin.

I had to drive up from the Jersey Shore to New York which gave me plenty of quality time with the car. The VolvoS60 drives perfectly smooth and amazingly quiet. The HD radio was great to listen to WFAN660 Sport Radio to Hot97 Rap and R&B. I really enjoyed the navigation system which was voice activated and traffic updates via satellite. This is perfect for driving up to the city because pick your poison Lincoln Tunnel or George Washington Bridge. My traffic was minimal thanks to the reroute from Volvo. The blind spot cameras for changing lanes was also very helpful in city driving.

The day before the game we took the Volvo into queens because I had 5 things I wanted to do back at campus. We were able to eat at the Sly Flox and see a bunch of old faces in the same places. It was great to be back and see what we remembered and the new improvements to facilities on St. John’s beautiful campus.

The game itself was just incredible. The crowd was bigger and better than I’ve ever seen and you just got goosebumps when Garden erupted with applause. Unfortunately I couldn’t send out any tweets in game because the reception in Madison Square Garden is terrible. I’d get no texts then 20 would pour in at once. After the game I had 93 text messages which is nothing compared to Steve Lavin’s 450.

After the game most of the Red Storm faithful went to Stout bar which is owned by a St. John’s alumnus and it was fantastic atmosphere in the program’s biggest win in nearly a decade. I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend. Thanks Volvo!