The Cinderella story of college basketball has gone bust, at least as far as New Yorkers are concerned. You can imagine the magic slipper fitting one of the scary stepsisters, or perhaps Cinderella never making it home before the carriage became a pumpkin. Whatever the case, there will be no happy ending for head coach Steve Lavin and his team this year. If only they had that Fairy Godmother waiting in the wings. Alas, it was not to be.
The crushing 86-71 loss to Gonzaga (25-9) at Pepsi Center in Denver is not easy for St. John’s players and their fans to take. Yes, that thin Denver air may have gotten to the Johnnies, but it seemed the thing that did them in was defense, or the lack thereof. By the time Dwight Hardy (26 points) got his first basket, Red Storm was down to the Bulldogs 31-18, and the writing seemed to be on the wall, but getting to 43-32 at halftime kept the hopes alive for the faithful at least for a little while.
One can blame this loss on the absence of the injured D.J. Kennedy. That would be the easy way out, but we SJU fans all thought that he would provide the Johnnies with a “Gipper” moment. They would win one for Kennedy, and then another one, and so on. Obviously, this did not prove to be enough incentive for the Red Storm. Their 21-12 season is now history, but they gave us a good ride for a while there, but maybe it was foolhardy to even imagine them ever making it to the Final Four.
I guess instead of lamenting what is not to be, we should be celebrating what happened this season. Steve Lavin gave St. John’s fans something to really cheer about. Thoughts of a return to the Lou Carneseca era were obviously premature, but even though this was Lavin’s first season coaching the Johnnies, he was far from being a rookie coach (he had great success as coach of UCLA to fall back on).
His history of winning and making it to the Sweet Sixteen (five times) had to have helped to motivate this team to forget the frustrating years before his arrival. Let’s face it, Lavin took St. John’s from infinite sadness to March Madness this year, for that he deserves tons of credit.
And yet now there is nothing but March sadness for Red Storm fans. The dream is over, for now at least, but there is great hope for next year. The seniors on this squad graduate and go off to hopefully bigger and better things, including Kennedy who faces months of rehab before he can get back on a court. Yes, those guys are gone, but we have to trust that the future is in good hands: Steve Lavin’s hands.
For that reason more than anything else on this day after the big loss, Red Storm fans should take heart. Yes, no one likes to say it, but there’s always next year.
Dwight Hardy – Andrieski/AP
Steve Lavin – Dempsey/AP