St. John's Steve Lavin was a serious contender for NCAA Coach of the Year honors heading into Thursday night's game against Seton Hall.
That honor may have been temporarily derailed as the 15th-ranked Red Storm were upset, 84-70, by the 12-win Pirates. The setback also means that St. John's almost certainly won't enjoy a double-bye in the upcoming Big East tournament, an advantage reserved for the conference's top four teams.
Not only were the Red Storm outplayed against Seton Hall, the usually composed Lavin was ejected following a late 7-0 Pirates run that sealed St. John's fate. With 1:55 remaining, Lavin, after calling a timeout, went onto the floor to argue with the official and received a technical foul.
Lavin continued walking and talking and was promptly assessed another technical. His night was over. And with seven seconds left, St. John's forward Justin Burrell was assessed a flagrant foul and also ejected.
"I'm not proud at all of the poor display of conduct on the sidelines, and I apologize to our players and St. John's and our fan base and basketball fans at large," Lavin said in the locker room after the game. "I set a bad example."
Referee John Cahill issued the following statement to the media: "[Lavin] came out onto the court in an unsportsmanlike manner, which got him the first technical foul, and then he continued to carry on in a manner that was unsportsmanlike and was assessed the [second] technical foul."
St. John's season had been storybook until Thursday night. Lavin left the broadcast booth to return to coaching this season, and took a team with a 33-34 record the last two years and fashioned them into a 19-9 outfit -- including victories over perennial powerhouses Duke, UConn, Pittsburgh, Villanova, Georgetown and Notre Dame. And last week St. John's entered the top 25 for the first time in more than a decade.
Now St. John's hopes for a two-game conference bye lie with Syracuse. If the Orange defeat DePaul Saturday -- no matter what the Red Storm do in their season finale against South Florida -- Syracuse would earn the double-bye.
But that's not necessarily a bad thing; some coaches think that a two-game break is too much of a layoff this late in the season. A single bye -- which St. John's will have -- allows the team to recharge and get healthy. Two games might be the tipping point between rejuvenation and rust.
Either way, Lavin is looking ahead.
"I'm very encouraged, not disappointed whatsoever," he said. "My message in the locker room was that ... it's a great wake-up call, like smelling salts or getting punched in the mouth. And that's the beauty of sports -- that if you don't bring it every night, if you don't bring the brass knuckles and the A-level effort, you're gonna get beat."