If St. John’s needed one more quality win to further separate themselves, at least for the time being, from all those teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble, boy did they ever get it last night. Because just like against Duke last month, the Red Storm didn’t merely defeat No. 9 UConn, they crushed them, 89–72, in a game that for much of the second half was even less in doubt than the still-impressive final score would indicate.
They outscored UConn in the paint 40–18. They had a 27–2 (!) edge in fast-break points. And Dwight Hardy topped his career high (previously set just last weekend) with 33 points. This, folks, is what sports teams like to call “making a statement.” And let it be known: When this team plays its best, and its shots are falling, they can beat any team in the nation — at the Garden, at least, where the Johnnies are beginning to enjoy a very real home-court advantage. Back pages like this one, after all, tend to get the attention of the city’s sports fans.
And so the Johnnies now have four wins (all at the Garden) over ranked teams — Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke, and UConn. It’s the kind of thing that can make up for losses to St. Bonnies and Fordham. Still, the immediate road ahead is rough, what with Cincinnati, Marquette, and No. 4 Pittsburgh coming up. (That game against Pitt, by the way, is at the Garden.) And with games against DePaul and South Florida in the regular season’s final two weeks, they can hardly afford any more ugly blemishes on their record. But with two wins over top ten teams in less than two weeks, the Johnnies are posed to return to the Tournament for the first time since 2002. With such a senior-laden team, they promise to be a tough draw for whoever they’d wind up facing.