Chris Mullin’s steps in the rebuilding process are as simple as any coach around the country has done. To win you must: recruit and execute. But to return St. John’s back to the Big East Conference reputation it once had, winning at home seems so insignificant, but stands as one of the secret building blocks.
“It is important,” Mullin said. “The history of this university and the history of this basketball program [is important]. The one thing I think we did really well this year was play well here.”
Knocking out DePaul Monday, 78-68, finalized the Johnnies home games at Carnesecca Arena. Despite their 9-11 record and three conference wins overall, the Red Storm has quietly compiled a 6-2 record at home.
“Last year I didn’t think we had as good of a feeling as we did this year,” Mullin said. “We had some really great crowds. I always loved playing here and it’s important to feel good about your own building, and I do think they feel good about playing here.”
The statement win that Mullin had been longing for, aside from his monstrous victory over Syracuse in upstate New York, came over Butler at home on December 29. In the 76-73 victory over then-No. 13 Butler, St. John’s immediately turned its home court into one that took careful planning and consideration. Both Greg McDermott and Jay Wright mentioned that game specifically when scouting and compiling a game plan for St. John’s.
In total, the Red Storm nabbed victories over Bethune-Cookman, Binghamton, Cal State Northridge, Fordham, Butler, and DePaul. The only losses came to No. 10 Creighton and Delaware State. Compare that to last year’s 5-6 record. The best win St. John’s had to offer in that campaign came in a two-point win over Rutgers.
“It used to be Alumni Hall and it’s a lot of history there,” Tariq Owens said. “I know we play at The Garden but there’s a lot of history in [this] arena…It’s small and it gets rowdy when you get the fans into it.”
Don’t underestimate the power of home floor, even if St. John’s has two of them. Madison Square Garden is a different animal. It invites Big East fan bases from around the country, possibly drowning out a true, dominant home court. But let’s get back to Carnesseca.
Matt Norlander of CBS Sports reflected on Duke’s ridiculous non-conference home record, one which stands at 130 straight victories. He called it “One of the truly ridiculous streaks in sports that refuses to die.” Duke’s strength in recruiting and in the laurels of history stands as is because of its incredible reputation and the reputation of Mike Kryzewski.
When you win at home, nobody in the country wants to play you there. That’s where St. John’s needs to go, and this season proved that it’s another step in the right direction for the reputation of the program. Mullin didn’t return to the program to make Carnesecca Arena sell out every night. He’s there for much bigger reasons.
Ironically, the most recent non-conference opponent to beat Duke at Duke was Mike Jarvis’ 1999-2000 St. John’s Red Storm, which upset the Blue Devils 83-82. That was 17 years ago.
Home wins are the backbone of a program’s success. Little by little, the Johnnies are trending up in that regard.