Think of all the great basketball names that have come through the Big East. Now, put the name of St. John's Moe Harkless at the top of one very impressive list. His 32 points in the Red Storm's 91-67 blowout of Providence last night in front of a Carnesecca Arena sellout crowd of 5,602 set the record for a freshman in his Big East debut.
Harkless broke the mark of 30 shared by Georgetown's Allen Iverson and Notre Dame's Troy Murphy. Marquette's Steve Novak scored 41 in his Big East debut, but he was a junior when the Warriors joined the league.
News of the record caught Harkless totally unaware after the game. "I didn't even know that," the Forest Hills native said. "It's an honor to be mentioned with those guys."
Harkless had a phenomenal line in the box score, making 14 of 17 field-goal attempts, including 2 of 3 from three-point range, and adding 13 rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocked shots. The forward got ample support from guard D'Angelo Harrison, who had a stellar freshman league debut with 25 points. He shot 8-for-12, had seven assists, three steals and took several charges. Phil Greene also hit double figures with 12 points.
Harrison, too, was stunned to learn of the record Harkless set and suitably impressed. Asked if he would have shot more if he knew about the record, Harrison laughed and said, "That's amazing to me. Moe had a great game, 14 of 17, very efficient. He deserves it."
The most amazed people of all in Carnesecca Arena had to be the Friars (11-3, 0-1 Big East), who came in with a seven-game winning streak and a lot of confidence they expressed to Harrison before the game. "They were saying, 'Y'all not ready; y'all too young,' " Harrison said of the pregame conversation.
That added fuel to the fire for St. John's (7-5, 1-0), which has struggled at times against a tough schedule, but the Red Storm was ready to play defense. They forced 20 Providence turnovers while committing only nine. Although the Friars shot 48.3 percent and had three players in double figures -- Gerard Coleman (20), LaDontae Henton (15, nine rebounds) and Vincent Council (11) -- they got whipped in the transition game.
St. John's shot 56.5 percent, jumping out to a 16-4 lead while turning the Friars over four times in the first five possessions. The lead reach 19 points in the first half, and it never dropped below 12 points in the second. At one point, the Friars went to a full-court press, but St. John's responded with a 9-0 burst that included two dunks by Sir'Dominic Pointer, one by Amir Garrett and a three from Harkless. That pushed the lead to a high of 26 points at 81-55.
Providence coach Ed Cooley called his team's effort "pathetic," and he added, "That was the worst defensive game I've ever coached. That will be addressed emphatically at 6 a.m. [today] in practice."
Harkless said defense was the key for St. John's. "The adrenaline was going," he said, "and defense led to easy baskets."
No one made it look easier than Harkless himself.