Photo courtesy of St. John’s University Athletics.
By David Cordova
From September to March, college basketball programs endure a lot of triumphs and heartbreaks, as well as highs and lows. But both things happened to one college program in New York this year and tested them to the very end.
The St. John’s Red Storm showed a lot resilience and heart after the tough year that they’ve endured. And today, they stepped on the court for the final time this season and gave what appeared to be their maximum ability.
However, it would not be enough to salvage their season.
They started out 10-2 in non-conference play, playing teams such as Missouri, Arizona State, Nebraska and St. Joseph’s. But then things took a turn for the worst when they started conference play in the Big East play, when they lost their first eleven games.
But then fate intervened on February 3rd, as they beat Duke, then the No. 4 team in the Associated Press poll, at Madison Square Garden, in a non-conference game at Madison Square Garden, 81-77. Four nights later, on February 7th, at the Wells Fargo Center, in Philadelphia, they got an even bigger win, as they got their first conference win over Villanova, who was then the No. 1 team in the Associated Press poll. From there, they were on a three-game winning streak in conference play. Four, in total, counting the contest against Duke.
In the end, they managed to go 4-14 in Big East play. But they then managed to come back and defeat longtime rival, Georgetown, a team who swept them twice in the regular season series, 88-77, in the first round of the Big East Tournament last night at the Garden.
Just fourteen hours later, they had to regroup for the quarterfinals in a game against Xavier, the Big East regular season champions and the No. 3 team in the Associated Press poll. But little did the Red Storm know, that it would be their last time on a court for this tumultuous season.
Xavier 88, St. John’s 60
From the beginning of the game, Xavier was in the driver’s seat, behind the play of graduate student and forward Kerem Kanter (12 points) and senior guard J.P. Macura (nine points). However, St. John’s continued to stay close, based off of the early play of junior forward Marvin Clark II (18 points) and sophomore guard Justin Simon (14 points) as the Red Storm took a 19-15 lead, with 10:52 to go.
But the Musketeers countered with the contributions of senior guard Trevon Bluiett (27 points and seven rebounds) and junior forward Kaiser Gates (16 points), as they would go into the half leading by four, 33-27.
Although they were down at halftime, St. John’s did better in every statistical category than Xavier, as they held them to 20% from three-point range and 35% from the field.
But then the Musketeers turned the tables in the second half, as they ran out to a 13-point lead, 48-35, with 14:54 to go. Xavier did a good job defensively on St. John’s sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds (15 points and seven rebounds), as they held the All-Big East First Team member to 4-for-14 shooting.
Then later, Xavier capitalized on Simon and junior forward Tariq Owens (two points) fouling out and would then go on to lead by a 20-point margin, 74-54, with 4:38 left. And then that would be a lead that the Musketeers would never relinquish.
“They’re a tough team to play against under any conditions. They just are a really good team through and through. Got great guards. They’re physical.” said St. John’s head coach Chris Mullin on Xavier.
And so, St. John’s finishes the season at 16-17 and another year without an NCAA Tournament appearance or any other postseason appearance, for that matter. But the thing to take away from this season, it’s that the Red Storm stayed resilient throughout the struggles they faced this season.
“I really haven’t assessed the whole season, but, yeah, you’re right on, we got off to a good start. Had a horrendous January and I thought we played pretty well the last 10 games. So up and down, inconsistent for different reasons, different circumstances.” said Mullin when talking about the season as a whole. “But these two guys here and the guys that played the bulk of the minutes, I thought they did a good job handling different things that were thrown at them, just absorbing it, being accountable and just kind of moving on.”
Next season, they will have something that they missed out on this season: depth. They will graduate two seniors in forwards Amar Alibegovic and Bashir Ahmed. Marcus LoVett, who hasn’t been in action since November 26th, has decided to go play professional basketball overseas.
They will still have their core players in Simon, Ponds and Clark. The new players will be redshirts such as transfers Sedee Keita (South Carolina), Mikey Dixon (Quinnipiac) and freshman Boubacar Diakite, who sat out this season. And then there the incoming freshmen, who are all high school seniors in shooting guard Greg Williams (Lafayette, Louisiana), Josh Roberts (Troy, Alabama) and Marcellus Earlington (Ramsey, New Jersey). All in all, the future looks bright for the Red Storm.
When asked if there was any lessons they learned throughout the season, Clark replied, “I would say you know how you handle distractions, how you handle distractions and how you go about every day on and off the floor. I think that’s one of the biggest things. Like Coach said, consistency. We have reasons within our team, within our program that were kind of distractions to our team. But the biggest thing, it’s just what Coach has instilled in us is how we bounce back. And I think having that 11-game stretch of losing, losing, losing, losing, I think most people would have cowered and tucked their tail and ran. I’m proud of our team for fighting back and making, salvaging something out of the season. And I think that’s just goes from what Coach has instilled in us and what he’s talked to us about night in night out.”
Now, it’s all back to the drawing board for the Red Storm.