It didn’t come easy, but it has finally happened after four years of waiting for the St. John’s men’s basketball team. There have been flashes over the last three and a half years of how good the Red Storm can be, but they always seemed to fall short. This year was different. They knew they had something to prove and now they are the team they were and are expected to be. They are New York’s team, and on the cusp of going dancin’.
For five St. John’s seniors that have been together through all the ups and downs, this was their last shot to make the NCAA Tournament, and they came out to each and every game with that tenacity.
In years prior, senior guard D’Angelo Harrison was the guy the Johnnies relied on to make the big and win them games. But this year was different. Every one of the seniors became go-to guys. It didn’t matter who had the ball in the games’ final seconds; everyone believed that guy was going to win the game for the Red Storm.
The best example of this was Feb. 28 at Madison Square Garden versus Georgetown. Harrison had two early fouls and barely played as a result. But it didn’t affect anyone on the floor; they just stepped up and did their jobs. Senior guard Phil Greene IV and senior G/F Sir’Dominic Pointer stepped up. Greene finished with 26 points and seven rebounds and Pointer had 24 points and seven rebounds. That’s exactly why this team is dangerous; there isn’t one guy on the floor that doesn’t have the ability to take control of the game.
Everyone has stepped up this season for St. John’s. Harrison had his typical year averaging 17.8 points per game and received Big East First-Team honors. Pointer has been the x-factor for the Red Storm. He has done everything on both ends of the floor and his athleticism has made him a deadly weapon. Pointer averaged 13.7 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game and 2.5 blocks per game. All of which garnered him Big East Second Team honors, Big East Most Improved and Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Greene was a three-point assassin shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc and averaging 13.1 points per game. Senior guard Jamal Branch was the quiet leader and floor general for the Johnnies averaging 4.7 points per game. Junior F/C Chris Obekpa has been one of the best rim protectors in the nation averaging 3.2 blocks per game. Sophomore guard Rysheed Jordan began coming into his own this season averaging 14.1 points per game.
As head coach Steve Lavin has said at multiple points of the season the Red Storm have had their “hills and valleys” throughout the year. They started the season on fire coming out of the gate 11-1 in the non-conference portion of their schedule.
But then the Big East schedule started and the Johnnies fell apart, to the point where they were nearly no longer considered for the NCAA Tournament. They started the Big East slate at 3-6, making them 14-8 overall on Feb. 3. Harrison had a bum shoulder and knee during the stretch and Obekpa was taken out of the starting lineup. But the Red Storm had nine games left in the season and they caught fire yet again. They went 7-2 in the final month of the season and finished at 21-10 and 10-8 in the Big East, supplanting them as the fifth seed in the conference tournament and in great position for a NCAA Tournament birth.
St. John’s postseason will start what they hope will be a long postseason run this Thursday at Madison Square Garden versus Providence in the Big East Tourney, a team they are 2-0 against this season.
This is the last chance for the five seniors on this team to make a run in the NCAA Tournament. They have been fighting to get the program back to an elite level. They are one of, if not the most, athletic team in the nation and every game they play has a shot to be their last together.
St. John’s will not be an easy out in the NCAA Tournament; they have just worked too hard to get to this point and have the ability to put the nation on notice.