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nyc college hoops road trip

NYC College Hoops Road Trip: St. John’s

Last night, we trekked out to Jamaica for St. John's crushing 63–61 loss to Marquette at Carnesecca Arena. How crushing? It was Senior Night, it was a solid, spirited crowd, it was one of the better games the Red Storm has played this year ... and they lost on a last-second desperation jump shot as time expired in overtime. That's a rough way to lose on Senior Night. Particularly if you're coach Norm Roberts, who was, by one report, "ashen" after the loss. That's a man whose job situation, with one fall-away jumper, became considerably more perilous.

But St. John's pain is the team's alone: We were just there for the penultimate stop on our NYC College Hoops Road Trip. We saw the Red Storm play at MSG earlier this year: Now it was time to kick it Queens-y. How does the née Alumni Hall play? Let's dig in.

Venue: Carnesecca Arena, Queens
Team: St. John's Red Storm
Ticket Price: $30

Facilities. It's a shame that the Johnnies play half their games at the Garden, because Carnesecca Arena is a perfectly fine place to watch a game. It reminded us a little of a recent trip to Freedom Hall in Louisville: The demographics are similar, and they even kind of look the same. (Though Carnesecca Arena is smaller.) We love the Hall of Fame in the entryway — though someone over there should take down that picture of Jayson Williams — and we definitely love that the concessions have excellent hot dogs and Pirate's Booty, an official team sponsor. Did you know that Pirate's Booty has a costumed mascot? Well, they do. Score: 7/10.

Quality of Play. With all the games we've been to all season, it's difficult to argue these aren't the best two teams we've seen. (Cincinnati might be more talented than St. John's, but they didn't play like it at MSG.) As the likable Norm Roberts continues to fight for his job, it was clear that Marquette (not exactly a Big East powerhouse) just had better quality athletes than St. John's did. The Red Storm played their arses off, and probably deserved to win. They're a fun team to watch. But if they're not good enough to beat a highly motivated, NCAA bubble team like Marquette at home, you have to wonder how much farther this team can go under Roberts. Which makes us sad. But not nearly as sad as he looked in the press conference afterward. Score: 7/10.

School Spirit. The Johnnies had the biggest and best band we've seen thus far, and on more than one occasion we found ourselves bopping our heads to songs by the Foo Fighters or Ozzy Ozbourne. (By comparison, the Fordham band, bless 'em, played a song by the freaking Bloodhound Gang.) They had a large cheerleading squad and dance team (an age-appropriate one, by the way), plus an Internet-voter-approved mascot. The bottom two-thirds of the stands were pretty crowded (which is to say, the top third was not), though many of those wearing school colors were alums, locals, and other folks far too old to be in college. On the other hand, this did provide us a couple opportunities to see long-discontinued Redmen apparel. And though they're not exactly the Cameron Crazies, the student sections on either end of the court were as enthusiastic as any we've seen on our tour: Students behind one of the hoops spelled out ST. JOHNS on their bare chests, with a sports-bra-clad coed providing the punctuation after the S and the T. From our seats, though, we couldn't see if they had anyone sporting an apostrophe. Score: 8.5/10.

Coziness. There are three pricing plans for seats at Carnesecca Arena: One cost $30, one cost $25 and one cost $20. (Unless you're a student: $5 for them, as if their lives aren't happy and fancy-free enough already.) There's not a dramatic difference between any of them, other than that they're farther away than our seats at every other gym we've been to, and more expensive. Also, there are bleachers, but with little bumps every two feet or so, to provide the illusion of a seat. You end up sitting on these bumps. Also: It shouldn't be this difficult to get out of the parking lot. You'll probably have to drive there or take a bus from the subway: We, honestly, recommend a cab. Score: 3/10.

Miscellaneous. Going through airport-level security — metal detectors, bag searches, baseball-cap removal — at a sporting event is never fun. But once inside, it felt like the game we were watching mattered, probably because it did, more than all of the others have. We passed by a seat reserved for a member of the Charlotte Bobcats organization, presumably there to scout NBA-worthy talent. And Senior Night at the other local colleges aren't likely to include a former Knick like Anthony Mason escorting his son onto the court — even if it was more than a little depressing to see how much Mase has let himself go. Score: 5/10.

FINAL SCORE: 30.5. We have a new leader. (Sorry, Fordham.) The key to Carnesecca Arena is that while nothing about it blows you away (it's not as pretty as Rose Hill Gym, it's not as convenient as St. Francis or Columbia), it's consistently good everywhere. And honestly: After all the other stops on this tour, it was exhilarating to watch a game that actually mattered. Even if it ended with a devastating loss.

Next up: Saturday night, 7 p.m., Princeton at Columbia, Levien Gym, Manhattan, our final stop of the season. Be there!

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Photo: Joe DeLessio