If nothing else, St. John’s provides intrigue this winter

Despite a 60-58 loss to Butler, St. John's served notice to Butler and their Big East competitors that they have to be in for a heavyweight fight in playing them.

Face it. You did not think the St. John’s Red Storm would rally from a 22-point deficit against the No. 11 Butler Bulldogs on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena. You thought the same ol’ Red Storm by creating excitement just to put you down after prosperity from beating West Virginia and Arizona. You figured the Johnnies would be exposed as soon as the Big East conference games started.

Hard to blame you when the Red Storm done this over the years to the point they lose the benefit of the doubt.

But the Johnnies did something that they have not done in recent years. They showed spunk and resilience in the second half by going on a 26-2 run and ending with 19 straight points to take a five-point lead with few minutes to go. They offered hope to their suffering fans that they could pull out a win despite all the makings of a blowout early.

The Bulldogs put a kibosh to all that. They finished on a 7-0 run to end the game with a 60-58 victory, forcing St. John’s fans to give their team a standing ovation for a moral victory.

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Good-bye, St. John’s seven-game winning streak and 2019. Hello, 2020 and a new decade with an 0-1 conference record.

Yes, it was a loss, but think of the big picture here. From the eye test itself, this is a different Johnnies team than we saw over the years, certainly from the forgettable Chris Mullin era. In Mike Anderson’s first season as the Red Storm head coach, they play defense, and they devise a plan on how to attack on offense by running a fast-paced offense that features ball movement. They know what to do on the court.

Sure, Rasheem Dunn ran a bonehead play for some reason by going the other way when he had the ball with few seconds to go in the game. The idea was to run a play for either LJ Figueroa or Nick Rutherford (15 points, six steals and five assists).to make the last shot. Apparently, Dunn lost track of time by dribbling for so long and he gave the ball to Figueroa, who shot hastily with time running out to no avail.

But other than that, St. John’s played like a well-coached team. They did not quit. They put themselves in a position to win the game by forcing Butler to 24 turnovers (their season-high) that help engineered a 26-2 run, giving them a 48-46 lead with 6:49 to go in the game.

They lost because they shot 35 percent on the field and 18 percent from the three. They shot four of their 3s in the second half. The problem with the team is personnel in a sense they don’t have many good shooters outside of Mustapha Heron (he did not play after spraining his right angle against Brown on Dec. 10 going for a rebound) and Figueroa, who was in foul trouble all night and did not register a point in this contest.

Falling behind 37-16 to Butler at halftime and using all that energy in the second half to make that 26-2 run that would give the Red Storm their first lead of the game (48-46) since taking a 4-2 lead, it may have caught up to them in the end when guys had tired legs.

Even then, the Red Storm could have won it. They led 58-53 with 3:08 to go when Dunn sliced through couple of defenders to make a layup. Everything went St. John’s way in that second half by forcing turnovers and finally hitting outside shots.

That’s where the Bulldogs deserved credit. They answered by going on a 7-0 run, resulting to a 60-58 finish on Jordan Tucker’s two free throws, Kamar Baldwin’s jumper and Christian David’s 3-pointer. They are not 13-1 for nothing. They defend as well as St. John’s, and they know how to win big games in conference play.

It speaks well of the Big East that all of the 10 teams boast winning records. It says here the conference season will be a dogfight for all 10 teams when it comes to playing in the NCAA Tournament. January serves as the unofficial start of the college basketball season, which conference games turn into high stakes for all the teams, and Tuesday night served as a test for the Johnnies to see where they are and how good they can be.

No question the Red Storm invested so much in this game. They knew a win would embolden them and get the fans even more excited. They wanted to put on a show in what was a lively Carnesecca Arena crowd. They understood first impression was important for a fanbase that experience so much disappointment. They needed this win more than Butler. This comeback victory could have validated their start so far.

So yes, there was disappointment. To the credit of Anderson and his players, they offered no pap about moral victories. To that we say, Alleluia. It got old hearing Chris Mullin and his players talking about moral wins. That’s what we call a culture change right there.

Maybe it’s a good thing the Red Storm lost since now we will learn more about them in how they respond after a tough loss to see if they really are different. They get that chance Sunday afternoon against the Xavier Musketeers on the road.

No one knows if St. John’s will participate in this year’s March Madness. So many games to be played, but last night should serve a reminder the Johnnies can be in the conversation with the NCAA tournament committee.

The first conference game should serve notice for the Red Storm’s competitors that there won’t be easy games against them anymore in the Big East.

Yes while Thursday’s loss serves as a micro, the comeback attempt serves as a macro this St. John’s team can be relevant and interesting in the start of the winter season.

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