Were those illusions of grandeur in St. John's thorough 74-59 victory over Marquette Saturday? Or concrete signs it is finding a path toward recapturing long-ago glory days?
Just as during the old Lou Carnesecca-Chris Mullen-Walter Berry-Mark Jackson era, St. John's was winning at Madison Square Garden. It was styling the same uniform look (except for the old-fashioned short shorts) as in those heady times. It was climbing a ladder of confident, team-oriented play.
"I think the kids took another positive step forward," said coach Steve Lavin, gushing over the "fight, the grit, the resilience of this team. The gumption, the resolve -- it's first- rate."
Before getting too carried away, it is worth noting that St. John's is a fairly humble 13-9, and only 3-6 in Big East play. (There's another throwback element -- the resurrection of the Big East as a basketball-centric league.)
Still, sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson said, "Everything is still out there for us. We feel there's still opportunity there. The sky's the limit."
Junior guard D'Angelo Harrison reached toward several personal heights with 27 points, six rebounds and three assists. He shot 6-for-11 on three-pointers and 7-for-16 overall. His four-point play with 12:58 to go summarized St. John's complete control of the afternoon affair.
Harrison had just pumped in a pair of three-point shots and, upon releasing the third from well behind the arc, was knocked to the floor by Marquette's Deonte Burton. Harrison had begun to appear incapable of missing from downtown, and when he added the free throw, St. John's extended its lead to 51-33. And it steadily climbed from there, up to 69-43.
Better than that, to both Lavin and Harrison, was the way St. John's was sharing the ball on offense and choking off Marquette's scoring with a helping, active defense.
Sophomore Chris Obekpa blocked seven shots and grabbed seven rebounds. Sampson scored 10 points and added five rebounds and a block. Freshman Rysheed Jordan handed out seven assists and had two steals and two rebounds.
All nine St. John's players who saw more than five minutes of action scored. The Red Storm shot 46.4 percent from the field compared to Marquette's 34.8.
After Marquette (12-10, 4-5) scored the game's first six points, it never led beyond an 8-5 edge in the first three minutes and never closed St. John's lead to fewer than 10 points through the game's last 25:45.
"Coach just kept stressing in the timeouts, 'Don't let them back in,' '' Harrison said. "Keep them down 20, basically. It's hard to guard all five of us at the same time, especially when we're moving the ball.
"That's what we've been stressing in practice. This is four of five wins for us. Everybody's just bought in."
The team's "low point," Sampson said, "was halftime of the Georgetown game," when St. John's trailed 42-16 on its way to a 17-point loss on Jan. 4. "We just grew after that."
St. John's and Georgetown. Those were the days . . .