Men’s Basketball team tops Bulls on Senior Night

According to St. John’s men’s basketball coach Steve Lavin, Senior Day is always the hardest day of the year to coach.

The first-year head coach of the No. 15 Red Storm had already been through seven as coach at UCLA, and was already well-equipped to handle the first of many in Queens.

But with a group of 10 senior players and four senior managers, Lavin understood just how unique the Red Storm’s 72-56 win over South Florida on March 5 was, both in St. John’s lore and in college basketball history.

“You think, how could this happen?” Lavin said. “Put it up there with unicorns and Halley’s Comet.”

All kidding aside, Lavin said the evening was remarkable because he was certain 10 seniors hadn’t ever before made up the majority of a college basketball team, nor would they probably ever again.

With the win already in hand late in the second half, Lavin substituted for each of the players on the court individually, so each could bask in his own ovation from the crowd of 5,602, many of whom sporting black t-shirts honoring the Senior Day celebration, at Carnesecca Arena.

“It was touching for us, because the fans have stuck with us for the first three years,” said senior point guard Malik Boothe. “It was rough for us and rough for them, and for us to have the season we’re having is well-deserved, for us and for them.”

Though the Bulls (9-22, 3-15) led the Red Storm by two points at halftime, the Red Storm went on a 9-2 run to open the second half. After Justin Brownlee’s three-point play with 8:41 to play, the Red Storm finished out the game on a 22-9 run.

“It was tough because of all the emotion of playing in front of our family and friends, but we just tried to play within our system and in the second half we were able to impose our will,” senior guard Paris Horne said.

Four Red Storm players scored in double figures as senior guard D.J. Kennedy led the team with 16 points. Senior Dwight Hardy scored 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting.

The win marks the first 20-win season for St. John’s (20-10, 12-6) since 2002-03 and the first time the team has amassed 20 wins during the regular season since 1999-00. It was also the ninth win in the Red Storm’s last 11 games as well as the program’s first win in six tries while wearing the black jerseys.

“Our message throughout these last few weeks is to not be satisfied, to keep the hard edge and revisit or stay connected to the pieces that led to our success,” Lavin said.

St. John’s closed out the regular season tied for third in the Big East, ensuring the team of a single bye when the conference tournament begins Tues. The Red Storm will square off against either Seton Hall or Rutgers on Wed.  

“We closed the season out strong, we’ve just got t o use our momentum and stay strong because like our coach says, the air gets thinner,” Boothe said. “There’s little room for error.”