St. John’s “big man” Justin Burrell.
So St. John’s, after 5 stirring victories in a row, went to South Bend last Saturday. A vteran Notre Dame team crushed them, content to move the ball quickly and to exploit mismatches, the Irish kept scoring, and never allowed St. John’s to establish their defensive stronghold, and then to get out in transition. Then this week, in front of a 14,440 Garden faithful–an excellent crowd considering New York City’s inclement weather–things only got tougher for Lavin’s crew. St. John’s, now having dropped 5 straight to Syracuse, got out well in the game. Up 17-8 early, St. John’s produced hardly a noteworthy moment from that time forward. The Orange went on an 11-0 run to tie, and then the Johnnies inability to score in the half court was again glaring. At 25-18 down, St. John’s canned two straight threes to pull to 25-24. From there they were outscored 51-35, for a 76-59 loss which was not as close as the scoreboard indicated. At 25-24, Syracuse ran off 4 straight buckets in what semed like a blink. At that point it was 33-24, and essentially, the game was over.
The loss made two straight in the Big East for St. John’s, which for the moment, dropped them to 3-2 in conference play, and 10-5 overall. It seemed no help was on the horizon, with a Garden rematch looming versus Notre Dame looming yesterday afternoon. But knowing Lavin, we had a good feeling about yesterday’s game, if once again, we couldn’t tell you why. Probably has a little something to do with the fact that St. John’s has a newly restored element in their midst this year called pride.
The Johnnies upped their record to 11-5 (4-2 conf) by protecting the home court yesterday in New York. They did it according to the Lavin/Keady blueprint: stops and run outs. St. John’s held a 26-19 lead at the half which they parlayed into an impressive 72-54 win over the formerly 11th ranked Irish, who turned up 16th in this week’s latest poll. The win was the 2nd in 2 weeks over ranked opponents for the Johnnies who are building quite a case for an NCAA bid, now about half way through their season. St. John’s was led by D.J. Kennedy, who had 14 pts and 8 boards, Dwight Hardy, who had 12 pts on 4-6 shooting, with 4 rebounds and 4 assists to go with it, and Justin Brownlee, who added 11 points and 5 rebounds. In what was a shocker to us, Malik Boothe, who we have absolutely trashed for his lack of ability, brought 14 pts to the table in 24 minutes.
But we’d like to go back to Syracuse. Not actually, but for the sake of trashing them in this space. God, we hate them. From the way ESPN’s crew fetes them–touting how they feel the Garden is their home away from home–to the way their players run their mouths.
“We just know where we stand with New York and where New York stands with us. St. John’s is having a great year. We’re not taking anything away from them…but we’re New York’s team right now.” — Scoop Jardine
They talk because they are worried. St. John’s is in play on all viable city kids, cutting into Syracuse’s recruiting base considerably. And Lavin’s California pipeline and pull out in the Golden State can not be matched by Syracuse, who has now watched California pull what looks like two consecutive Mr. Basketball’s from Cali, Dwayne Polee, and next year’s gem, big man Norvel Pelle. We hear Remi Barry is still beaming about his visit to campus as well. Wearing ‘NY’s Team’ shirts in the Garden and chirping about it, as well as a tacky guerilla marketing campaign in which they rented out the tops of New York City yellow taxis and installed orange plackards was at once desperate and sad.
Look, what kid in his right mind would want to play for Syracuse over St. John’s? Who is going to pick the sticks over the city? Syracuse is so far from everywhere that their sticks have sticks. There are no basketball players in Syracuse to recruit, so they have to try to snag our kids. In fact, there’s nothing in Syracuse. It makes “cultural hubs” like Texas and Indiana seem like Milan. Syracuse is 5-6 hours outside the city on a good day, but we wouldn’t call it God’s country. My friend and I traveled their not too long ago to visit a friend, and since I went to college upstate, I had occasion to visit in my younger days as well. No redeeming elements whatsover.
In our recent visit, we left Manhattan at midnight, were on the West Side Highway immediately, and were on the Thruway and rolling with in a blink, at 75 MPH, for a good 2 hours. We felt good about life. And then we saw a sign that said, “Syracuse: 280 Miles.” That was the worst sign I have ever read in my life. It was worse than the drug disclaimers you read when going through customs in Bermuda. I much prefer the drive to Florida. It may be 20 something hours, but when you get there, at least you’re in Florida, not Syracuse.
They have a great team again and have put some fine players in the pros of late, like Johnny Flynn and Wes Johnson, who we’d take on the Knicks in a heart beat. But they’re Syracuse. I’d rather go to Fordham. As for St. John’s, they face Louisville Wednesday night in Louisville in Lavin’s first trip there since resurrecting the program.