St. John's had to dig deep Friday night in Chicago to overcome a 20-point first-half deficit and rally to beat DePaul, 90-82, in triple overtime. No doubt the effort was a reflection of the concern the players feel for coach Norm Roberts, whose job status is uncertain after six seasons without so much as an NIT appearance, let alone an NCAA bid.

In black and white terms, the victory allowed the Red Storm (16-14, 6-12 Big East) to finish the regular season with a winning record and to match last season's conference record. The problem for Roberts is that more tangible signs of progress were expected this season from a roster that he described as the most talented he's put together.

As satisfying as it must have been for the Red Storm to climb out of such a deep hole on the road, a win over last-place DePaul (8-22, 1-17) hardly constitutes a measuring stick for progress. In fact, with the chance to beat up on the Blue Demons twice this season, that should have made it easier to compile more than six Big East wins.

No, Roberts' fate shouldn't come down to the outcome of a game against woebegotten DePaul in the regular-season finale. And I seriously doubt athletic director Chris Monasch would base his recommendation on such a shallow criteria. He had plenty of evidence, pro and con, to reach a decision on Roberts long before now.

Roberts obviously gets the credit for cleaning up the image of St. John's basketball program in the wake of the oversights and abuses that took place under Mike Jarvis. In terms of character and presentation as the face of the program, the school couldn't ask for better than Roberts.

But then, there's the matter of the record, how it affects the finances of the athletic department and what the prospects are for returning the program to the upper echelon of the college game in the future. The overall record is 80-99 and a dismal 32-70 in Big East play. The rule of thumb is that it takes three years to turn a basketball program around. Roberts got twice that time.

Give him the first three years for the clean up. Judge him on the last three seasons. That record is 43-51 overall and 17-37 in the Big East. Really, it's the Big East that counts because the rest is just scheduling. You have to get through the conference to be in the running for an NCAA bid. There's no getting around that fact.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Monasch can't be happy with the small crowds for games at Madison Square Garden, especially when he sees what Syracuse and Connecticut draw. That's where St. John's needs to see improvement, and Roberts hasn't delivered on that score.

Should Roberts get more time? That's Monasch's call. He has to answer to his boss, Fr. Donald Harrington, president of St. John's.

Until the decision is handed down, they all can take pleasure in the Red Storm's comeback and gutty effort at DePaul. D.J. Kennedy led the way with 32 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Paris Horne added 20 points and seven rebounds, Anthony Mason Jr. had 14 points and nine rebounds, and Justin Burrell contributed 10 points and 11 boards. The Red Storm finally pulled away in the third overtime period by a 13-5 margin, getting six points from point guard Malik Boothe and five from Mason in that stretch.

Now, it's on to the Big East tournament and a first-round game on Tuesday. St. John's will be seeded 13th (2 p.m. game) if Rutgers (15-15, 5-12) loses Saturday at Pittsburgh or 14th (9 p.m. game) if Rutgers wins.