Sometime in the last two weeks, a lightbulb went off in the collective minds of this young St. John's team, sparking their maturation from a team with a lot to learn to one with a lot to show.
The proof was there yesterday against No. 18 Notre Dame, a 61-58 win at Madison Square Garden that surely will reverberate around the Big East with less than two weeks until the conference tournament. It was St. John's third straight win and first against a ranked team in 11 tries this season.
"I think we can surprise a lot of people if we keep playing the way we are," said St. John's Moe Harkless, who led all scorers with 22 points.
Harkless shot 8-for-16 from the field and had nine rebounds. D'Angelo Harrison added 15 points, and Amir Garrett had 11.
St. John's, which led the entire game, got a clutch floater from Garrett with nine seconds left. "He made a heck of a shot," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of Garrett's floater. "I'm going to live with that."
Notre Dame, which closed within one point twice in the final 1:28, pushed the ball up the floor but Alex Dragicevich's three-point attempt clanged short.
Scott Martin and Jack Cooley had 18 points apiece for the Fighting Irish (20-9, 12-4), which had won a program-record nine straight conference games.
St. John's transformation seemingly happened overnight. On Feb. 14, the Red Storm (13-16, 6-10) lost by 30 to Seton Hall. Since then, St. John's has beaten UCLA, DePaul and Notre Dame. "That loss sparked us," Garrett said. "It was like they took our heart from us. We were like, 'That can't happen.' "
St. John's got off to a strong start, getting to the basket easily and shutting down Notre Dame's outside shooting threats with aggressive ball pressure. The Fighting Irish had no luck from long range, missing 27 of 31 three-point attempts.
St. John's, which led by as many as 14 in the second half, shot 22-for-47 (46.8 percent) overall. Harrison was 5-for-10, and his 15 points moved him seven shy of Erick Barkley's record 500 by a St. John's freshman for one season.