Somehow, it seems fitting that, for Senior Night, St. John's upperclassmen plan to show they're not afraid of the dark. In a season dedicated to reaching new heights and erasing one negative after another off their record, the Red Storm plans to wear its black uniforms for the Carnesecca Arena finale against South Florida Saturday night.
It was forward Justin Burrell who came to first-year coach Steve Lavin with word from his fellow seniors that they wanted a "blackout" night. Besides black uniforms, the coaching staff, which has been wearing white sneakers as part of a cancer awareness gimmick that evolved into a lucky charm of sorts, will switch to black sneakers. And the 5,602 family, friends and fans who attend the game will receive a promotional black St. John's t-shirt.
Never mind that St. John's is 0-5 in its black uniforms. "The black jerseys are awesome," Burrell said. "I love 'em. They're my favorites ones. It definitely would have to go the black and then the red and the white. Also, we haven't gotten a win in those jerseys, so, it would be great to go out winning in those jerseys in front of our home crowd."
Fortunately, Burrell's ejection at the end of the Seton Hall game for a flagrant foul won't prevent him from taking part in Senior Night. Discussing the foul he delivered to the Pirates' Anali Okoloji, who was going for a dunk with 7.6 seconds left to play, Burrell said, "I was frustrated we were losing, but I feel theirs an honor code. It's an unwritten rule. Under 35 seconds [in a game no longer being contested], you kind of let the game go. My mistake was the staredown. I definitely shouldn't have done that.
"I didn't feel the foul wasn't a basketball foul. I went for the ball. He got a little contact with it, but it's no different from any fouls I gave before."
Back in the gym on Friday after that 84-70 loss to Seton Hall, Lavin drilled his team on how to attack the zone defense it saw from the Pirates on the assumption the Red Storm will see more zone in the NCAA Tournament. After allowing the Pirates to shoot 12 of 18 from three-point range, they also worked on pressuring the ball better, being quicker in the rotations in their matchup zone and rebounding.
If nothing else, Burrell's hard foul at the end of that loss showed the Red Storm didn't take the end of their six-game winning streak lightly and maybe learned the importance of staying aggressive no matter the opponent.
"Our team is based on physical play," Burrell said. "We try to use muscle as far as being physical with teams, wearing guys down, pressuring the ball, hard closeouts, no easy baskets in the paint…We need a win to go into the Big East tournament and the NCAAs."
Sounds like St. John's "Men in Black" plan on taking care of business before their college careers fade to black.