In Beating Georgetown, St. John’s Well-Positioned For an NCAA Bid

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 1st, 2015

Sitting at 14-8 overall and 3-6 in the Big East after a blowout loss at Butler on February 3, the NCAA Tournament was the last thing on the mind of the players at St. John’s. The pressure was mounting on Steve Lavin and his senior-laden team, a group that had not earned a ticket to the Big Dance in their collegiate careers. Fast forward to the end of February and this same Red Storm team is sitting pretty at 20-9 and 9-7 in the Big East after a convincing victory over Georgetown in front of more than 13,000 lively supporters at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. This victory was Lavin’s 25th win in the month of February as the head coach of the Johnnies, and the February rise has almost become an annual tradition for St. John’s under his leadership. In 2011, the Red Storm won seven of eight games in February to lock up an NCAA bid. Just last season, St. John’s put together a six-game winning streak to get itself onto the bubble, only to eventually fall a game or two short of dancing. Lavin’s team has again appeared to turn the corner, going 6-2 in the second calendar month of the year to put itself in prime position for a trip to the NCAAs.

Steve Lavin's Group (USA Today Images)

Steve Lavin’s Group Has Used the February Rise to Get Back Into the NCAA’s Good Graces (USA Today Images)

“Our upside is the most intriguing part of our team,” Lavin said afterward. “I don’t think we’ve played our best basketball yet.” If he is right, the rest of the Big East should be put on notice. Playing on its home floor in just over a week, St. John’s should enter the Big East Tournament as one of the hottest teams in the league and a dark horse threat to take home the title. The seniors on this team are playing at a high level, starting with Sir’Dominic Pointer. Including his 24-point performance against the Hoyas, Pointer has averaged a robust 20.0 PPG over his last six games, fueling the team’s late season surge. Pointer was all over the floor on both ends, utilizing his energy, quickness and athleticism to flummox Georgetown all game long. Hoyas center Joshua Smith fouled out in only eight minutes of action, unable to keep himself in front of Pointer. With Smith constantly out of position, St. John’s repeatedly got to the rim, especially in transition. As a result, that opened up the perimeter where fellow senior Phil Greene IV could take advantage. The Chicago product poured in 26 points and made six of his seven three-point attempts on the night. “You have to limit them. You have to make them score in the half-court,” said Georgetown head coach John Thompson III. “We had too many breakdowns defensively when we needed to get stops.”

What was most impressive was the fact that St. John’s took control of the game in the first half when leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison was forced to sit after picking up two fouls in the first minute of the game. Harrison did not make a single field goal all game, but the Red Storm were regardless in control throughout and never once threatened by the Hoyas. “That’s a senior-laden team that’s been in the trenches, that’s hungry,” said Thompson. It was a bad combination for Georgetown: an experienced, desperate team playing at home and looking to avenge a 22-point loss to the Hoyas 11 days earlier. “We were the aggressor for 40 minutes,” Lavin added. Indeed they were, and they earned the win that just may get St. John’s over the NCAA hump. With road games left at Marquette and Villanova to finish the regular season, a split may be all that is necessary for St. John’s to finish above .500 in Big East play and grab its 29th Tournament bid in program history. Lavin’s team now has five wins against the RPI top 50 and sports a 9-7 record against the top 100. Posting more than 20 wins in the nation’s No. 2 league (both RPI and KenPom) should be enough, and achieving that goal would be a special moment for this group seniors. Pointer added that it would be a “wonderful feeling if we get in,” but perhaps it was Greene who said it best: “We don’t want to put it [their fate] in anyone else’s hands.” With this win, St. John’s is well on its way to earning that bid and not having anyone question its validity.

Brian Otskey (269 Posts)

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