A Look Back at St. John’s 2011 Resurgence

April 11, 2011 Updated: October 1, 2015

SEEING RED: St. John's basketball coach Steve Lavin has built the team back up to championship contenders. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
SEEING RED: St. John's basketball coach Steve Lavin has built the team back up to championship contenders. (Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
After missing the NCAA tournament eight straight seasons, the Johnnies returned to prominence this season behind the tutelage of first-year head coach Steve Lavin.

Lavin's senior-laden squad came out of seemingly nowhere to finish tied-for-third place in the stacked Big East standings, while waking up their proud fan base with several thrilling wins against some highly-ranked opponents.

Although it was just one game, not many people would have predicted a tournament bid was in the cards for the Red Storm after a season opening 76-71 loss to NIT-bound St. Mary's.

But, wins in each of their next five games, including a 67-58 handling of the PAC-10's Arizona State pushed the Johnnies' record to 5-1 heading into a match-up with St. Bonaventure.

A last-second game-winning shot by Bonnies' forward Andrew Nicholson beat the Red Storm 67-66 and after losing the following game 84-81 to Fordham, St. John's record was a very mediocre 5-3.

A silver lining in the two losses would be the play of rising shooting guard Dwight Hardy who put up 24 points against the Bonnies and poured in 30 points versus Fordham.

The Red Storm, as a team though, would start turning the corner in the Holiday Festival with successive wins over Davidson, 62-57, and Northwestern, 85-69.

That momentum would carry into conference play as the Red Storm opened eyes locally with wins at West Virginia and Providence, followed by a home victory over 13th-ranked Georgetown.

The 21 points against the Hoyas by the senior Dwight Hardy marked his fourth straight 20-point performance, while the win moved St. John's to 10-3 overall and a surprising 3-0 record atop the Big East Conference.

Losses to Big East foes Notre Dame, Syracuse, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Georgetown sandwiched around a 72-54 shellacking of the Fighting Irish dropped the Johnnies to a pedestrian 11-8 overall, yet a still-respectable 4-5 in Big East play.

Even Better

The best was yet to come though as St. John's followed that up by blasting visiting 3rd-ranked Duke, at Madison Square Garden, 93-78 in a game that was over by halftime.  The win was the Johnnies' third over ranked teams at their 'home away from home'.  Hardy emerged a six-game slump to score 26 points in the winning effort.

After a close win against Rutgers followed by a loss at Lavin's former employer, the UCLA Bruins, the Johnnies would really hit their stride.

Following consecutive wins against eventual-champ Connecticut, NCAA tourney participants Cincinnati and Marquette,  and Big-East Champion Pittsburgh, the Red Storm were considered relevant again, signified by their first Top-25 ranking in over a decade.

Wins against Depaul and, on the road, against Villanova, pushed their record to 19-9 overall and 11-5 in conference play.  Seton Hall finally crashed the party with an 84-70 win, stopping the St. John's winning streak at six games.

By that time though, Steve Lavin was getting mentioned as Coach of the Year, Dwight Hardy's hot shooting had put him in the mix for Conference POY, and the Johnnies were certain to go dancing for the first time since 2002.

After downing South Florida, 72-56, on an emotional Senior Day, the Red Storm officially finished 12-6 in a conference that would send an NCAA-record 11 teams to the Big Dance.  The win-loss record was good enough for a third place tie in the stacked conference and an opening-round bye in the Big East tournament, setting up a rematch against local-rival Rutgers.

The Scarlet Knights trailed for most of the second half in their second meeting and had a chance to upset the favored-Johnnies, were it not for the efforts of a refereeing crew that ignored the final 3 seconds of the pivotal contest, sending St. John's to a wild victory and giving them their own rematch against Syracuse.

The eventual loss to the Orange though, would be overshadowed by the loss of all-everything guard-forward D.J. Kennedy.  The team's 3rd-leading scorer, 2nd-leading rebounder, and 3rd-leading assist-man injured his knee just minutes into the game and would end up missing the rest of the season.

The rest of the season would be the opener of the NCAA tourney as Steve Lavin's 6th-seeded team played 11th-seeded Gonzaga the next week.  The Johnnies, clearly missing Kennedy, looked out of sorts from the get-go as the Zags overwhelmed the undermanned-Red Storm 86-71, ending St. John's season with a 21-12 record.

The successful season has come at a bit of a price though as the upper-class-heavy Red Storm only return one player (Dwayne Polee) who played significant minutes.  Still, the future may eventually be bright as Steve Lavin has in place, currently, the No. 2-ranked class according to Rivals.com.  The nine-player haul includes six total players ranked in Rivals top 100.

The successful season followed by the abundance of talent that Steve Lavin has brought in solidifies one piece of news Johnnies fans have been hoping for since they last went dancing in 2002—St. John's is back.