This St. John’s team has given you as much hope and thrills as it has heart attacks and reasons to shake your head this season.
The young Red Storm men’s basketball team followed up two of its worst games of the year with one of its best, nearly knocking off No. 15-ranked and co-Big East champion Marquette at Madison Square Garden Saturday. A Vander Blue buzzer beater stood between the Red Storm and its biggest win of the season in an eventual 69-67 defeat.
Can you figure them out? I sure can’t.
I had to rewrite this column because I had initially mapped it out prior to the Storm losing to Marquette. The previous version was going to detail the Johnnies’ offensive woes since the suspension of leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison March 1 for conduct detrimental to the team. The numbers weren’t pretty.
During the season, St. John’s shot less than 40 percent from the field in losses to Providence and Notre Dame and was just 2-of-23 from three-point range but shot 59.3 percent in the second half against Marquette.
The Red Storm still does not have a true shooter on the team and it’s been an issue this season. I stand by my belief that this is ultimately a flawed roster made up of players with similar skill sets. They are athletes who thrive on defense, attacking the basket and scoring in transition.
Sometimes that’s good enough for a big win here or there and five victories over mostly the lower half of the conference in January. February and early March hasn’t been a good time. St. John’s posted a 2-7 record in the final nine games of the regular season. The Johnnies went from squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble to staring an NIT bid in the face.
This group wasn’t ready to win now. It’s been the rollercoaster season head Coach Steve Lavin expected from Day 1. Still, every time you are ready to dismiss this group of players and the coaching staff, they give you efforts like they did against Marquette. Phil Greene went for 20 points, JaKarr Sampson had 17 points and Chris Obepka swatted away everything near the rim.
There are big-time pieces in place.
However, effort, heart, guts and guile won’t be good enough after two straight seasons without an NCAA tournament berth. When you bring in a big-time coach like Lavin and highly rated talent, just competing eventually isn’t good enough.
Just when you think that’s all this group will ever be able to do, they have games such as the one against Marquette that reminds you how special they could become.