We can talk about the whistle, of course, because there are plenty of hoarse and angry people — starting with the nine members of the St. John’s basketball team who took turns on the floor — who heard that whistle in their sleep Thursday night, which will interrupt their sleep patterns for the next few months.
That’s what happened in the roughly 15 minutes before that whistle cut through the collective pleas and pleas of 19,812 fans that will truly keep them awake at night. With 15 minutes and 10 seconds left in this Big East quarter-final, the Johnnies were leading Villanova, 44-27, and you could hear TVs all over the country switching to FS1, wanting to hear Raf rave and Gus galvanize.
Exactly 10 minutes later, there were four of them, and it looked as if someone had ripped a plug from the garden wall.
And yet the Johnnies came back: Refusing to leave, refusing to let go of the game, the night, the season. Posh Alexander, playing with four fouls, was everywhere, shooting charges, fearlessly carrying the ball to the basket. Julian Champagnie was brilliant, and everywhere too. And when Stef Smith converted an old-school three-pointer with 2:08 to go…
Good. Look at this. Johnnies by a point again. Johnnies 128 seconds from a miracle place in the semi-finals. Johnnies, two games away from Valhalla.
“It didn’t surprise us,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “We knew exactly how good the St. John’s team is.
He used the present tense either out of courtesy or out of habit; by then the Wildcats had beaten the Johnnies 66-65 and yes the margin of victory came on a call that’s probably 100% legit with 2 ½ minutes left in the first half and probably a whistleblower with 2 ½ seconds to go. the game.
(Let’s put it another way: if the uniforms and the score were reversed, do you think St. John’s can shoot free throws there?)
But we digress.
“I just left a locker room full of emotions,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “And you can understand why.”
If you’ve watched this team all season, you know it by heart, like your phone number or your address or the words “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”. It was the 11th time the Johnnies had lost a single-digit settled game. Think about it. Win five of them – less than half – and this game is disappointing but still just a warm-up for an 8-9 game somewhere in the NCAA Tournament next weekend.
May this serve as an epitaph to this team:
“Good enough to break your heart.
And they know it, believe that, because no one’s heart has been broken more than the kids in the red clothes, who spent so much of the night giving the Garden a sold-out house, thinking that they were about to do something remarkable.
“They left their hearts and everything on the floor,” Anderson said, “and came a little short.”
Said Champagnie, who finished with a record 23 points: “Everyone here can see our faces. It’s difficult.
And Smith: “We had a lot of those types of games, which boiled down to a game that could change the outcome, win or lose. How can we get that one to play? And we missed again tonight.
Wright was right; There was no shame in Villanova being crushed by St. John’s, who have proven in real jolts this year that they can play with a team like the Wildcats. But playing with a team and beating it are two different skills. And it’s a series of unique moments that have defined this game, and this season:
The call blocked on Alexander which looked like a charge, and gave him a cheap foul late in the first half. Both empty possessions in the final 90 seconds when the Johnnies desperately needed to increase a one-point lead. Yes: the decisive fault. And, yes: not realizing how long 2.8 seconds really is, settling for a prayerful heave rather than trying to get a better buzzer hit.
“I love these guys,” Anderson said. “Each of them.”
There was a lot to like, there really was. But there was also so much more this group could have accomplished together. It will be, more than anything, what will visit the Johnnies and their fans when they start dreaming about basketball again. Good enough to break your heart. Hour after hour after hour.
New York Post