Enter San Man

Like the Jets, the Johnnies took it personally and delivered some payback.

The St. John’s players—who then-No. 9 Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said “played like men today”—may not have puffed their chests and flaunted their win the way Rex Ryan’s men did after avenging their 45-3 thumping at the hands of the New England Patriots, but the Red Storm’s 76-61 loss at South Bend eight days prior was not far from mind.

“I think we were more focused on getting the payback win because last week when we played them we knew we really didn’t play our basketball,” senior point guard Malik Boothe said. “We came out flat and we let that carry on throughout the whole game.”

When the Red Storm is at its best, their game plan is easy to see: the team plays a fast-paced offensive game centered around catching transitioning defenses off-guard and getting high-percentage shots while executing a tight zone defense that is tough to penetrate off the dribble.

Like the Jets, St. John’s won because it took away its opponent’s strength—in this case, perimeter shooting—and took advantage of 20 Notre Dame turnovers.

Funny, the Johnnies did that against then-No. 13 Georgetown last week too, holding the Hoyas’ trio of guards to 7-for-26 shooting, and it resulted in the team’s first win over a ranked opponent in nearly two years.

At least now the Red Storm know the formula—take away what your opponents do well, and it forces them to make adjustments on the fly, adjustments they may not be prepared to make.

This is hardly groundbreaking analysis. If you prevent opponents from executing their game plan, logic would suggest you’re going to be successful more times than not.

But taking away an opponent’s strength is only half the battle—you’ve got to execute your own, too. The Red Storm had just six fast break points and turned the ball over 15 times in their first meeting with the Irish, and while they had 32 points in the paint trailed throughout the game.

By not staying tenacious on the defensive end, the Johnnies not only fell out of their own game plan but fed Notre Dame’s, allowing the Irish to shoot  58 percent from the field as well as 8-for-22 from 3-point range and surrendering 26 points to guard Ben Hansbrough.

All that changed Sunday, as the Red Storm held Hansbrough to five first-half points and limiting his aggressiveness by forcing two fouls on the senior. In addition, the Johnnies forced 20 turnovers and 25 personal fouls, disrupting the rhythm of a team dependent upon its shooting.

This allowed St. John’s to control the game from the start, as a visibly frustrated Notre Dame team never had the lead and trailed by as many as 19.

“Against a team like that, you don’t want them to get confidence with easy baskets, fast-break layups,” senior guard D.J. Kennedy said. “You have to try to contain them and change the momentum of the game. We definitely tried to not let them get any easy baskets.”

So credit the Johnnies not just for their payback win, not even for their 4-2 start in conference play, but for their self-awareness.

As satisfying as the win was, Head Coach Steve Lavin noted that there are no easy games ahead—especially considering the Red Storm play in a conference that boasts eight teams in the Top 25 and still have dates with No. 5 Duke and UCLA.

The season will still be defined by a trip to the NCAA tournament, not a mid-January win over Notre Dame.

But watch out Big East, now the Johnnies know how to get there.