The boos rained down from all four corners of Alumni Hall. They were heard early in the first half, late in the second and almost everywhere in between.
The upset fans were voicing their displeasure, but it was not solely because the Red Storm were on their way to a 71-54 loss at the hands of Virginia Tech, a team that had yet to win on the road this season and came into the match-up with a 9-11 record.
Teams lose games, that is a given in college basketball.
Some days, a team wins despite shooting poorly and sometimes they can do everything right and lose.
But there is one thing that every single player who steps onto the court can control – their effort.
Against the Hokies the missing ingredient had nothing to do with turnovers or rebounds.
It was about the lack of heart, energy and enthusiasm that is needed when one is involved in competition.
St. John’s didn’t have any of that last Saturday afternoon.
There was no passion. No joy. No love.
Players moved around the court like they were sliding on ice.
Rarely was a white jersey seen on the floor, trying to corral a loose ball. Rebounds fell to the floor, only to be snatched by the visiting team.
“Even when we made good plays, nobody jumped up and down or tried to get a little bit more energy or enthusiasm,” Marcus Hatten said. “It’s just all on the players. We have to step up and play with some passion and pride.”
Sans a rare smile from Hatten, who grins so often he could be confused for the Cheshire Cat, there was no happiness to be found on court. Hatten had two dunks as he followed up on missed shots, and it seem that the Johnnies didn’t even care.
When they cut the lead to six with under five minutes to go, they began to sleepwalk and watch a team not only end SJU’s 11-game winning streak at Alumni, but hand them the third-worst loss in the history of the building, which opened in 1961.
“Hopefully the next time we play, we’ll play.” St. John’s Head Coach Mike Jarvis said. “Play with a lot more enthusiasm, a lot more passion, a lot smarter, a lot tougher – a lot of everything.
“The goal is to try to be the very best that you can be. What’s disappointing about today is not winning or losing, it’s how we didn’t play the game.”
I have watched this team for the past four seasons, and for the first time in the 113 games since I have been on campus, I was ashamed of the Red Storm.
They lost games by larger margins. They lost games to inferior opponents.
I was there for the 97-55 thrashing at Cameron Indoor against Duke. I’ve seen them lose to the likes of Samford (no, not Stanford) and Manhattan (twice).
This isn’t even the first time they’ve lost to Virginia Tech.
But never, ever, have I seen a Red Storm team that just didn’t want to be there, that didn’t want to play.
I can live with the fact that there will be a game where St. John’s misses 18 free throws and loses by five.
I can live with the fact that they lose by 42 to the eventual National Champion.
But if I were certain members of the Red Storm, I don’t know how I could look in the mirror after knowing that I didn’t try my hardest or give it my all.
Hatten tried his hardest. He scored 27 points and single-handedly kept SJU in the game.
Abe Keita, as he always does, did the best he possibly could, scoring a career-best six points in 15 minutes.
Eric King did not. His numbers weren’t that bad – five points, seven rebounds. But he knew he gave a sub-par effort, and he made no bones about it.
While Hatten and Anthony Glover were facing the music in the post-game press conference, everyone left the locker room lickety-split.
King, a sophomore, was on his way out the door when three reporters stopped him. He didn’t sugarcoat what happened. He knew what he and his teammates had done and how they felt.
“Yeah, because we were embarrassed,” King said. “We just didn’t have the energy out there. We looked in everybody’s eyes and didn’t have the energy.
“The crowd shouldn’t say ‘Fire Jarvis,’ they should say, ‘Fire the players on the team.’ Personally, I should be fired as well. I should have just stayed home. I didn’t do nothing today.”
The problem with that is they can’t fire the players. The coach is ultimately responsible.
But when players don’t go out and play, they should have to shoulder the blame too.
Jarvis can’t grab a single rebound or score a single point.
That’s why fans boo. That’s why people get upset when athletes like Randy Moss say they only play when they feel like it, that sometimes they only do the bare minimum.
The fans booed because they were being cheated – cheated from watching what has been a part of SJU basketball.
The long-time fans will tell you. Chris Mullin would never let up. Malik Sealy gave 100 percent every time out. The Matt Brusts and Chudney Grays always played their hardest.
The players tried to cheat those in attendance, but the 6,008 on hand couldn’t be fooled. And that’s why they booed.
And besides the fans, the players cheated themselves.
And that’s worse than any loss you can suffer on the court.
Jason Della Rosa is a senior journalism major who has a sinking feeling that SJU is headed for the NIT. Send comments to [email protected]