Coach Norm Robert’s continued tenure at St. John’s University has been a topic much discussed during this season. Many observers thought the performance of the Red Storm during the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden this week would be the deciding factor, but the answer is still not completely clear. The 17 victories the team has garnered this season are the highest since Roberts has assumed the helm of the program. The Red Storm may be invited to the NIT. The selection to the “little dance” could be the final factor in the decision of whether or not to retain or dismiss Roberts as head coach.
In the first round on Tuesday, the 13th seeded Red Storm (17-15) upset the Connecticut Huskies (17-15), 73-51. St. John’s began the contest with great intensity and took a 10-2 lead at 15:15. A free throw by Paris Horne gave the Red Storm its first double digit advantage, 22-12, at 10:48. The first half ended with St. John’s leading, 35-22.
The Red Storm never led by less than eight points in the second half. The team surged ahead during the final eight minutes. St. John’s climbed to a game-high 25 point advantage with 46 remaining after a 22-6 scoring run. After the contest, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun profusely praised the St. John’s team, “they [St. John’s] came out with purpose, physicality and quite frankly handed us our butts. They knocked us all off our screens. They completely outplayed us. They were much hungrier than we were.” Calhoun clearly foresees a great improvement for New York City’s only representative in the Big East Conference, “They certainly have a bright future ahead of them. They’ll be one of the better teams, I think, in the Big East, certainly top five or six next year.”
The second round game against Marquette (21-10) was reminiscent of the contest between the two teams at Carnesecca Arena in Queens late in the regular season when Marquette edged St. John’s, 63-61 in overtime. Marquette scored the first six points of the contest on Wednesday, and held the lead throughout the first half. After an opening second half basket by Marquette’s David Cubillan, St. John’s went on a 22-10 scoring run to tie the game at 39 with 10:46 left to play. The game was tied four more times in the next seven minutes, but St. John’s again fell short by two points, 57-55. St. John’s was without the services of its second leading scorer Dwight Hardy. The Bronx native has made an important contribution to the team’s improvement this season. Hardy’s leg injury, suffered late in the regular season, has kept him out of the lineup. The highly competitive contest excited the large local crowd in attendance. After the conclusion of the exciting contest, Marquette coach Buzz Williams gave credit to his counterpart at St. John’s, “Coach Roberts doesn’t get the credit he’s deserving of for how hard his team plays. ..If you were to ask our players who is the hardest playing team in the league, they would tell you St. John’s. I don’t think teams play hard just for one another. I think they play hard for one another and for their coach. I think that’s what St. John’s does. I think that’s what they did yesterday. And I thought they were the hardest playing team today.”