In front of a partisan crowd at Madison Square Garden Monday evening, the St. John’s Red Storm pulled off an upset the likes of which the university hasn’t seen in two years.
So when senior forward Justin Brownlee gave the Red Storm the lead for good in their Big East tussle with the Georgetown Hoyas, it marked a time to celebrate the resurgence of one of the marquee programs in men’s college basketball history.
With guard Dwight Hardy, one of 10 seniors on the roster, leading the way with his sixth 20-point-plus game in the team’s last seven games, St. John’s ended a 14-game losing streak against ranked teams.
The Red Storm’s last win over a ranked team came against Notre Dame on January 3, 2009, when they defeated the No. 7 Fighting Irish, 71-65, on the same floor of their triumph over Georgetown.
And on the heels of two road wins over West Virginia and Providence to open their Big East schedule, the Red Storm’s taming of the Hoyas gave them their best conference start since 1999-2000 when they opened 4-0.
However, the road doesn’t get any easier because within a span of 18 days, St. John’s will tip off against No. 15 Notre Dame twice, No. 4 Syracuse, No. 23 Louisville, No. 25 Cincinnati and No. 13 Georgetown again.
But with first-year head coach Steve Lavin pushing his team to play inspired ball, especially on the defensive end where the Red Storm are holding opponents to 41.1 percent shooting from the field, the aforementioned Big East powerhouses will have more than they can handle compared to past games against St. John’s.
Another by-product of the Red Storm’s impressive start, which includes a five-game winning streak, is the genesis of an atmosphere where New York college basketball is becoming relevant again.
St. John's Red Storm men's basketball is the seventh-most winningest program (1,713 wins) and has the seventh-most NCAA tournament appearances (27) in college basketball history.
The program has also produced two Wooden National Player of the Year Award Winners, 11 consensus All-Americans, six members of the College Basketball Hall of Fame and 59 members of the National Basketball Association, both past and present.
Nevertheless, the memories of when New York college basketball legends such as Lou Carnesca, Mark Jackson, Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, Malik Sealy and Ron Artest made St. John’s the toast of the town have been overshadowed by a decade of failure in coaching and recruiting.
But the hiring of former UCLA head coach Lavin, who guided the program to six consecutive NCAA tournaments, marked an end to the days when St. John’s would settle for less than the goal of living up to its rich tradition.
Although the road will be treacherous, the Red Storm have an opportunity to punch a ticket for the “Big Dance” for the first time since 2002.
More importantly though, St. John’s is gradually becoming an attraction again to the city’s best home-grown talent, who hunger and thirst to electrify Madison Square Garden the way Dwight Hardy and the Red Storm did Monday night.
“I never heard the Garden so loud,” Hardy said.
And with one of the top five recruiting classes in the country on the way, Lavin has the Red Storm poised to make even more noise in the immediate future.