Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Thrice As Nice

Dwight Hardy takes flight for his fourth straight 20-point game as St. John's improves to 3-0 in Big East with 61-58 win over Georgetown. (Photo courtesy of redstormsports.com)

The last time St. John's defeated a Top 25 team, this happened. The Red Storm forced Luke Harangody to carry Notre Dame on his back as the Fighting Irish, ranked seventh in the country on January 3rd, 2009, succumbed to St. John's by the final of 71-65.

If that's not enough for you, just remember what happened the last time the Johnnies locked horns with Georgetown, last night's opponent, at Madison Square Garden. In a knock-down, drag-out battle, the Hoyas' attempt to tie in the final seconds bounced off the backboard and St. John's held on for a 64-59 win in the first round of the 2009 Big East tournament.

Two years to the day of their Notre Dame win, St. John's welcomed the Hoyas back into New York City as Georgetown invaded the Garden for the first time since March 10th, 2009; and the result was the same despite a personnel change on the home bench. Behind 20 points from senior guard Dwight Hardy, St. John's (10-3, 3-0 in the Big East) overcame a late Hoya rally to defeat Georgetown (12-3, 1-2) 61-58 for their third straight win to start Big East play and fifth overall following a demoralizing road loss to Fordham that saw the Johnnies blow a 21-point second-half lead. The 20 from Hardy marked his fourth straight game reaching that number, and sixth in his last seven. "This is why we both came here, and this is what we live for," said Hardy, who took part in last night's postgame press conference along with teammate Justin Brownlee, who added 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists. Brownlee was responsible for the game-winning shot once again, a driving layup after rebounding a missed jumper from Hardy inside of ten seconds remaining in regulation. Hardy drained two free throws to provide the final margin of victory for what became the first home conference win for Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin, who is now not only 3-0 in the Big East, but also 3-0 at the "World's Most Famous Arena."

"It's one of the biggest reasons I came back to coaching," said a jubilant Lavin after last night's win when asked about how he was impacted by the atmosphere at the Garden, something St. John's had not seen in six years under Norm Roberts. In fact, last night's game harkened back to the 1980s, when the Johnnies and Hoyas were constantly at one another's throats while Lou Carnesecca and John Thompson Jr. were pacing the respective sidelines. Georgetown did get 16 points from Hollis Thompson in the losing effort, but were done in by the lack of productivity from their backcourt. The trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Jason Clark, which collectively averages 46 points per game, only managed 20 (Wright and Clark had seven each while Freeman only managed six) against a stingy St. John's defense that forced thirteen Hoya turnovers compared to just four of their own. The Red Storm scored 17 points off the Georgetown miscues and shot 76 percent (16-for-21) from the free throw line, making their first eleven foul shots to win another key stat line, a victory that looms even greater once you consider that the Storm was outrebounded by a 35-24 margin.

Next up for the boys from Queens is, ironically enough, Notre Dame. Ranked 15th in the country, the Irish will welcome St. John's into the Joyce Center, where D.J. Kennedy's pair of free throws in the final seconds enabled the Storm to steal a 69-68 road win. Should St. John's pick up another W away from the Big Apple, they will improve to 4-0 in conference, and the case for them to be ranked for the first time since Mike Jarvis was roaming the sidelines on the corner of Union and Utopia will become even stronger. To top all that off, St. John's will welcome perennial rival Syracuse into the Garden a week from tomorrow in a matchup that will squeeze some juice (no pun intended) into New York City.

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