Amid Dismal Winter for Hoops, St. John's is New York's Best Story | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Monday / October 2.
  • Amid Dismal Winter for Hoops, St. John’s is New York’s Best Story

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    NCAA Basketball: Fairleigh Dickinson at St. JohnNEW YORK — Amid this dark and dismal winter that the Knicks, Nets, Giants and Jets have given us here in the Big Apple, there is one shining beacon of hope.

    The St. John’s Red Storm.

    In a year when the Knicks are headed toward the NBA Draft Lottery, the Nets are already offering up their best players for trade and the Jets and Giants became irrelevant by November, the Johnnies are holding out hope of making noise come March.

    Keyed by a career-high-tying 24 points from Rysheed Jordan and 22 points from D’Angelo Harrison, the No. 24 Red Storm improved to 8-1 with a 74-53 blowout of Fordham on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

    “I feel like we’re doing a good job of representing New York really well,” St. John’s senior guard Jamal Branch said.

    New York has always been a pro town, unless a St. John’s or a Syracuse — which bills itself as “New York’s College Team” despite last weekend’s loss to St. John’s — makes a deep run in March.

    Johnnies head coach Steve Lavin understands that all too well, but he knows fans at the Garden saw at least one good team from New York on Sunday. And it was a college team.

    “I think New York loves basketball, whether it’s professional, college or high school, and New Yorkers have a keen appreciation for good basketball,” Lavin said. “If you hustle, if you’re tied together defensively, they will applaud you. If you move well without the ball, play a cohesive style on offense…they’ll get out of their seats and cheer for you.

    “At the same time, if you don’t hustle, you’re not tied together defensively or you don’t share the ball in the proper manner offensively, they’ll boo you. That’s the great thing, you get feedback like a report card because New York fans have had the luxury of seeing really good basketball over the years.”

    The Johnnies were part of a triple-header of college and NBA basketball on Sunday.

    In the opener, Manhattan, which has designs on making a run in the MAAC, fell to Rutgers, 63-55.

    Jaspers coach Steve Masiello promised his team would pull it together by February or March, “or I’ll move to the Bahamas.”

    “We’re not a 2-6 team,” he said.

    Manhattan may well end up battling Iona once again for the MAAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, but for now the Jaspers have work to do.

    Fordham, meantime, fell to 3-5 after its loss to the Johnnies and continues to play without sophomore guard Jon Severe, who has taken a leave of absence for personal reasons.

    Fellow freshman Eric Paschall looks like a stud in the making and Rams fans can only wonder what if about about a potential Severe/Paschall pairing.

    This would be Fordham’s fifth straight losing season under coach Tom Pecora, and it’s reasonable to wonder how long Pecora may last at Rose Hill, a notoriously tough place to win.

    The 5-20 Knicks were set to take the court Sunday night against the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors.

    At this point, the Knicks would be wise to “Lose some more for Okafor” or “Cede the day for Mudiay” as opposed to making a run toward mediocrity.

    Speaking of the Knicks, try these stats on for size.

    Entering the Toronto game, St. John’s had won more games on the Garden floor since Nov. 20 (2) than the Knicks (1). Same goes for Gonzaga and Texas, which, as you know, don’t play in New York.

    As of Sunday afternoon, Villanova, which plays its marquee games in Philadelphia, had won as many games in New York this season as the Knicks (3).

    So that leaves the Johnnies as a team worthy of some back-page attention and talk-show chatter.

    Even if it might not come until March.

    “My seven years at ESPN taught me that other than the rabid fan bases of Lawrence, KS, or West Lafayette, IN, or Creighton or Kentucky, most people are focused on college football, the start of pro basketball, shopping, the holidays, their families and then early January, they really start to turn their attention to college basketball,” Lavin said.

    “Like L.A., this is a pro town, one of the entertainment centers of the world, so we understand there’s kind of a gradual build to conference play and then ultimately the postseason when St. John’s fans really start to turn out and support the team.”

    In this dismal year, not just St. John’s fans — but all New York fans — may only have the Johnnies to cheer for come March.

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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.

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