St. John’s was thoroughly prepared and totally focused on an ending, and not necessarily the one you’d expect. It was not so much the four-game losing streak that had the players thinking of a final curtain. It was the last chance this season to play at Carnesecca Arena.
“Coach has been preaching, really all season but especially this week, that we needed to come into this last game at Carnesecca and really just bring the energy, the fight,” Malik Ellison said after scoring a career-high 23 points Monday in a 78-68 win over DePaul.
It had been 15 days since the Red Storm’s last victory, a road win over DePaul. None of the four losses were close, either, which seemed kind of immaterial to coach Chris Mullin.
“Look, winning is always a better feeling, there’s no question about that. But you don’t just get wins for nothing,” he said. “To me, it’s always more important how you handle the losses. The wins are going to come if you keep doing the right things.”
One of those right things is developing comfort on your own court. St. John’s (9-11, 3-4 in the Big East) has two of those, of course, with the remaining five home games to be played at Madison Square Garden. But everything starts at the arena on campus, where St. John’s went 6-2 this season.
“It means a lot. It used to be Alumni Hall and there’s a lot of history here,” said Tariq Owens, who had 10 points and nine rebounds. “I know we play at the Garden, but there’s a lot of history in this arena. It’s small and it gets rowdy when you really can get the fans into it.”
Owens just about shook the rafters when he slammed home an alley-oop pass from Shamorie Ponds about five minutes into the second half, restoring the 11-point lead the Storm had built with a defense-fueled 11-0 run before intermission.
St. John’s took comfort in knowing it could win despite off games from its top two scorers, Ponds (14 points) and fellow starting guard Marcus LoVett (three).
Balance helped the Red Storm have a good day in front of 5,602 — enhanced by the presence of former star Felipe Lopez, in person and in the form of thousands of bobblehead dolls, and members of the 1959 and 1965 NIT championship teams.
“I always try and share the history of this university and the basketball program,’’ Mullin said. “They’re pretty well versed on that. I was taught that by my coach and I try to pass it on to them.
“Last year, I don’t think we had as good a feeling about playing here. I always loved playing here. It’s important to feel good about playing in your own building, and I do think they feel good about playing here.”