St. John's scored the breakthrough victory it needed over then-No. 12 Creighton on Sunday to get back in the conversation for an NCAA Tournament bid. But any conversation about the Red Storm quickly will be silenced if they lose to Big East rival Seton Hall Thursday night at Newark's Prudential Center.
The Pirates (13-11, 4-7 Big East) are coming off a Tuesday home loss to Marquette that pushed them further out of the tournament picture, but they haven't lost at home to St. John's (15-9, 5-6) since Feb. 15, 1998. So the prospect of a letdown is very real, but the Red Storm can't give in to it.
"They lost, and they're going to have a chip on their shoulder," St. John's guard Phil Greene said of SHU on Wednesday. "They're trying not to lose two in a row at home . . . I'm not worried about a letdown. We're on a winning streak, and we want to keep it going."
Indeed, St. John's has won six of its past seven games, including one non-conference contest, after starting the Big East season 0-5. The idea of the Red Storm contending for an NCAA bid seemed like folly a month ago.
But freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan has grown more comfortable, and the Red Storm has harnessed its size and athleticism at the defensive end and learned to communicate and play a physical Big East-style game. They'll need that toughness against a Seton Hall team that has a solid group of shooters in post man Eugene Teague and perimeter players Fuquan Edwin, Sterling Gibbs and Brian Oliver.
With only seven regular-season games remaining, it's imperative for St. John's to reach .500 in Big East play. "It's big for us," D'Angelo Harrison said. "We're not satisfied with where our team is at . . . We went through a lot, 0-5 to start the Big East, and now, we turned it around. It made us learn a lot in a few weeks. Now, we're a completely different group.
"We have a saying in the locker room: 'One-game winning streaks.' After the Creighton game was over, it was time to think about Seton Hall."