If Louisville coach Rick Pitino was unhappy with his team's play in a 73-58 victory over St. John's Tuesday night, imagine how the Red Storm must have felt after shooting only 14.3 percent in the first half and going through a stretch where they made just one of 27 shots.
Asked how such futility might impact a team as young as St.John's, whose top six players include a junior college transfer and five freshmen, Pitino said, "With young guys that aren't one-and-done, you have to develop them. They're going to take quick shots, and [if they're missing], they lose faith. The good thing is they're learning lessons."
It's quickly becoming apparent that life in the Big East is going to be torturous for the Red Storm when they are overmatched against some of the top teams in the country. As inspiring as their opening win over Providence was, they now have been smacked down hard by top 10 teams Connecticut and Louisville in the space of three days.
Pitino predicted brighter days ahead for St. John's because it does have talent, but the real question is how long those young players will keep the faith with a program in transition. The situation is complicated by uncertainty surrounding the status of head coach Steve Lavin, who is on a modified schedule while recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
Lavin attended the Red Storm's afternoon shootaround and then made the trip to the Garden for the game, which he watched from a luxury box. He did not visit the locker room afterward, but issued a statement saying he is leaving on a recruiting trip later this week and following a "modified schedule" that doesn't include coaching in games for an undetermined period of time.
"He talked to us at shootaround," guard Phil Greene said of Lavin. "He told the team to stay together and cherish the moments at Madison Square Garden."
Nice words, but it's going to become increasingly difficult for such a young team to stay upbeat about the experience if the losses begin to pile up. For instance, assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who is running things in Lavin's absence, said Harkless should be proud of the defensive effort he made to grab six rebounds and block three shots against top Big East competition and not worry about shooting 4 for 13. But it's hard for a freshman to take that perspective.
Asked if Harkless (pictured) should be more aggressive looking for his shot because he has the ability to get to the rim, Dunlap said, "He has to learn that, when he misses, it's okay to take the next shot. He gets down. He loses hard. But that's him being a good competitor."
No doubt, Dunlap and the rest of the coaching staff will stay positive and reinforce the good things, St.John's talented recruits are doing. But it's going to be a great challenge for young kids to stay positive, see the big picture and have faith a bright future really does lie ahead if there are many more setbacks like the two they have suffered in the past few days.