Somebody fit this team for a number. After what St. John’s did against Georgetown on Saturday in the nation’s capital, it is clear that the Red Storm belong in the Top 25.
St. John's ended a 13-game losing streak at Capital One Arena in impressive fashion, earning a 97-94 overtime victory over archrival Georgetown. The Red Storm hung in through the Hoyas’ strong second half, overcoming what had been an eight-point deficit, scoring four unanswered points in the last 15.2 seconds of regulation and blitzing Georgetown out of the gate in the extra frame.
The Red Storm’s 14-1 start matches those of the Chris Mullin-led 1982-83 Big East champion and the 1985-86 Walter Berry-led Big East champion – which is pretty interesting. But that’s not the big point.
St. John’s should be a perfect 15-0. And were it not for the atrocious whistle that negated the Red Storm’s game-winning defensive play against Seton Hall last Saturday and inexplicably gave the Pirates a second chance for a game-winning basket (that they made) in the final seconds, it would be.
Yes, you can say that St. John’s made enough mistakes that night – missing the front end of two one-and-ones in the final 30 seconds, among other things – to give Seton Hall that chance. But the Red Storm still made the defensive play at the end that should have won the game.
St. John’s coach Mullin and his players want no part of a discussion about these topics, the bad whistle and the absence of national attention attributed to a weak non-conference schedule. Their consensus: All you can do is win the game in front of you and officiating isn't under their control.
However, the St. John’s community cares about these topics a lot. All one had to see was the raucous scene at sold-out Carnesecca Arena for the Marquette game. And sure, their social media voices on the topics are angry (then again, whose aren’t? ), but they continue to show how they’ve thirsted for a team like this since conquering hero Mullin returned. The on-campus game against DePaul on Jan. 12 is sold out and there’s only a handful of tickets left for the one against Creighton on Jan. 16.
In an event that can only be attributed to karma paying a debt, LJ Figueroa was the central figure in the play Saturday that opened the door to the Red Storm’s win.
The 6-7 forward is the player who deflected the inbounds pass at the end of the Seton Hall game, saved it from going out of bounds and got it to Mustapha Heron for what should have been the final second. Against the Hoyas, he came up with a steal with 12 seconds left in regulation. Then the 57-percent free-throw shooter hit two with 11.3 seconds left in regulation to tie it at 85 and send the game to overtime.
“Coach puts the confidence in us. We play hard every play,” Figueroa said. “We can’t control what the refs do – we just have to play through it.”
St. John’s will get another test on Tuesday. The Red Storm will travel – possibly with a ranking – to defending national champion and current Big East favorite Villanova (11-4, 2-0). Although the Wildcats won their second national crown in three years last season, St. John’s won a road game against them (at Wells Fargo Center). Four players from the championship team left early for the NBA, but as Mullin said, “They are the gold standard in college basketball.”
“I am beyond excited,” said Figueroa, who is in his first season with the Red Storm after transferring from junior college. “I’ve been watching them on TV my whole life and this is my first time playing Villanova. It’s going to be a big battle.”
And it is something for college basketball fans to anticipate. But there is one thing to look forward to before that game. Will St. John’s get the national attention it deserves? Pick a number, any number.