A big win for Storm and Roberts

It was quite a winter break for the St. John’s men’s basketball team.

They’ve gone 2-6 since the Fall Semester came to a close in mid-December, including a 1-4 start to their Big East schedule.

They’ve been outscored 373-304 in their five conference games and currently sit in 12th place in the most powerful conference in the country.

It’s probably an expected standing. But not everything that happened to the Red Storm over the break was totally expected.

On Jan. 3, on the floor of Madison Square Garden, Norm Roberts got the biggest win of his career. And who could’ve expected that.

Led by sophomore D.J. Kennedy’s 20 points and four clutch free throws in the final 15 seconds of regulation, the Red Storm defeated then-No. 7 Notre Dame.

The 71-65 win over the Fighting Irish was certainly unlikely. But its improbability isn’t even what’s most impressive about the win. Instead it’s that it didn’t even seem like a fluke.

The Red Storm controlled the game and looked confident against the reigning Big East Player of the Year and one of the most powerful teams in the country. They earned and deserved the win.

It’s been easy to criticize Norm in his time here because he hasn’t won anything yet. And the New York sports fan is an impatient and demanding breed. We don’t deal with losing well and take each notch in the loss column to heart.

And I’m certainly as guilty as any in giving Norm what many feel is a deserved hard time.

But that makes me even more responsible to congratulate the man for the biggest win of his career. It makes me even more responsible to recognize the Notre Dame win as the triumph that it truly was.

One of the major questions (ok, doubts) that I had about this year’s team was the play of their frontcourt. Last year, finding a reliable No. 5 was a huge issue for the Storm and I didn’t see a solution on the 2009 roster either.

But, as exemplified in the win over the Irish, the frontcourt has been one of the strongest parts of this team this year. Instead of one player filling the role, three separate players have emerged to lead the Red Storm under the basket.

Sean Evans has looked great at times and his slimmed-down frame has allowed him to become one of the Red Storm’s most important scoring options, averaging just under 10 points per game.

But Rob Thomas has really played well too. And it was him, along with Justin Burrell, who was able to finish close to Notre Dame’s basket.

Dele Coker is having a much-improved 2009 season as well and leading the team with 19 blocks.

Plus the emergence of Paris Horne and Kennedy from under the shadow cast by Justin Burrell’s impressive freshman campaign is another.

And though the Red Storm have since slipped back into what’s become normalcy in Queens, most recently a near 20-point loss to Villanova, Jan. 3 was a rare bright spot in the Roberts Era.

It was a rare day of hope and a rare opportunity to exercise our New York sportsfan pomposity, instead of our impatience.