When he comes to the media room, St. John’s coach Steve Lavin dons reading glasses with thick black frames, but not because he needs them to look back with 20-20 hindsight. No, Lavin stayed true to the vision he has held all along about this Red Storm team as a group that would struggle early before ascending in February and March.
It seemed more like wishful thinking when the Red Storm began Big East play with a 0-5 record, and Lavin admitted even his faith was challenged. “I never dreamt we’d be 0-5,” Lavin said Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. “Maybe 2-3 or even 1-4. Those were heartbreak games.”
Lavin was talking about the last three games in that stretch – a seven-point loss to then-No. 8 Villanova, a two-point loss at DePaul and, worst of all, a one-point home loss to Providence in double overtime. Holding a thumb and forefinger a millimeter apart, Lavin said, “The difference was this. I said, ‘We’re right there.’”
He really did say that at the time. In public. Claimed he saw progress through the darkness. Lo and behold, he was right. The Red Storm trounced Georgetown, 82-60, for its eighth win in nine games to climb to 17-9 overall and 7-6 in the Big East. That stretch also includes a win over then. No. 12 Creighton.
Suddenly, the Red Storm is in the conversation for an NCAA bid. They’re half a game out of third place in the Big East with five games left to play, and Lavin predicted their best basketball is ahead.
"We knew coming into the season we were going to struggle in November, December and January because of a number of aspects,” Lavin said. “But I also knew that late January and February, this was a team that could take flight.”
That clearly is happening now as freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan, who scored a career-high 24 points against the Hoyas, gains the experience necessary to put his talents to use. D’Angelo Harrison, who also had 24, said that Jordan has taken some defensive attention away from him “now that his jumper is falling.”
Georgetown coach John Thompson III credited the Red Storm for the way they controlled the game, saying, “They are playing at a high level right now, a really high level at both ends of the court.”
Besides Jordan’s emergence, Lavin noted how center Chris Obekpa has improved recently, and when he got into foul trouble against the Hoyas, Orlando Sanchez came off the bench to score nine points, grab five rebounds and make two assists. Things are falling into place for this team, but coming out of that 0-5 hole, Lavin knows there can’t be any letup.
Discussing St. John’s NCAA tournament prospects, Lavin said, “You don’t want to get caught in the fantasy of the future. We have to stay in the moment. We have to play good basketball, build a resume and take it out of the selection committee’s hands.”
In other words, just keep winning baby.