NEW YORK- Friday night’s heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M showed, in just forty minutes of gametime, the range of emotions that the St. John’s Red Storm will endure this season.
After lacking energy in the first half and falling behind by 11 in the first half, the Red Storm surged back to take the lead in the second half, up 57-56 with 22 seconds remaining.
Texas A&M guard Elston Turner knocked down a jumper from the top of the with ten seconds remaining and St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey could not convert on either of two free throws with seconds remaining, allowing the Aggies to escape, 58-57.
“What I shared with the team after was similar to last night, in terms of the talking points,” said St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin after the game. “There were stretches we played really well, but by we put ourselves in a hole…and down the stretch, we weren’t able to put a team away because of things within our control.”
The up-and-down emotions of the past few months are becoming a difficult reality of competing at the high-major level, something that this program has not experienced since the early 2000s.
Around this time last season, Lavin was helping to bring nothing but good news to a reemerging St. John’s program.
Off the court, news broke almost weekly of another top 100 recruit pledging to the Red Storm. On the court, Lavin was leading a group of nine seniors, a collection that had underachieved up to that point in their careers, to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in nearly a decade.
As summer came, the difficult news began.
Four players have decommitted in as many months, including two of the three players from the Class of 2011 who were ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier this season.
Former point guard commit Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton. Forwards Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson remain open in their recruitment. Big man Ricardo Gathers still has St. John’s at the top of his list, he says, but will sign in the Spring.
Kyle Anderson, a prized 2012 prospect from powerhouse St. Anthony (Nj.), turned down the Red Storm and signed with UCLA.
The roster that remains in Queens, though lacking depth and size, is a reason for a reasonable amount of optimism, with three top 100 recruits and two more highly-touted junior college transfers.
But if these past two games at Madison Square Garden have proven anything, an elusive truth of a climb toward national prominence has emerged:
Reasonable expectations will take you far.
A critical fan base has been quick to discount the progress under Steve Lavin, while others have talked of a deep run in the NCAA tournament with this inexperienced group of first year players.
The reality is that this team has and will progress through a natural flow of triumphs and defeats. They will lose games that they should have won. Perhaps they will steal a win on the road in an unfriendly environment.
And it seems that is the attitude they preach.
“We’re getting there. We know how talented we are. As a defensive team, we have to get stops, get rebounds, and we’ll be fine,” said freshman guard Phil Greene, who has 10 points and three rebounds in the loss.
The most remarkable thing about this team is their sense of togetherness. They seem to find safety in numbers, seeing themselves as one unit, instead of six different players.
Freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison, who had 12 points against A&M, was quick to come to the defense of his teammate.
“You can’t just blame Nuri. Everybody missed free throws. I feel like I lost the game,” said Harrison. “I’m pretty sure [junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa] feels the same way, and [freshman forward Moe Harkless] missed two free throws.”
Then, in a unique show of humor after such a loss, he looked at Greene, who sat at the opposite end of the media table.
“Phil was 100% [from the line], so he’s good.”
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_