St. John's Season Ends With a Thud in Denver

Zags have too much size, shoot too well in 86-71 win

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    Getty Images

    History tells us that few things end well and the 2010-2011 St. John's season lived up to the cliche on Thursday night.

    They lost 86-71 to Gonzaga, bringing an end to the most uplifting season of college basketball in New York City in quite some time. In something of an ironic twist, the Red Storm, who made their name by knocking off higher rated opponents, saw their season end at the hands of a team the selection committee thought they should beat.

    Two of the bigger questions leading up to the game were how well St. John's would be able to battle Gonzaga on the inside and how much the Red Storm could control the pace of the game. The answer hurt St. John's in both cases. 

    Gonzaga dominated on the boards and St. John's couldn't handle their center Robert Sacre without sagging off the perimeter defensively. That was bad enough, but it got worse. Every time they drifted inside, the Zags nailed an open three. They finished 9-of-15 from beyond the arc on the game and shot 52.9% overall, numbers that make it clear that the Johnnies couldn't hang on the defensive end. Credit the athletic trio of Stephen Gray, Elias Harris and Marquise Carter for exploiting that shortcoming and keeping the pressure on all game.

    That kind of shooting affected the pace as well with St. John's forced to play faster than they would have liked to keep pace. That didn't work for more than a few brief spurts and the game really got out of hand during a long first half spell of poor shooting and ball movement by the Johnnies. Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee each had some good moments, but St. John's isn't built for games like this and it showed.

    Above all else, Gonzaga never looked like a team that wasn't supposed to win this game. They were more athletic, they executed their game plan better and never had a moment of nerves en route to the victory.

    And that's really the thing. By the seeding, this game was a pretty big upset but seeds can often be deceiving. The Zags have a team that matches up particularly well against the Red Storm and have been playing better and better with every passing game. If they were to wind up beating BYU and making noise in the Sweet 16, it should surprise absolutely no one.  What's more, their basketball program actually outspends the Johnnies on recruiting. That makes things a lot more even than simply saying an 11-seed beat a 6-seed in the second (we still think of it as first) round. 

    It's still painful, though. The long stretch in the first half when the Johnnies couldn't find their offensive flow is particularly hard to swallow given how well they produced points during long portions of the game. And, of course, the loss of D.J. Kennedy was etched on the minds of everyone watching Gonzaga dominate the game in the paint.  

    Don't let your feelings about this St. John's season get too colored by the way it ended, though. These seniors can walk out of the program with their heads held high and the school should pay them a debt of gratitude for being a group that restored much luster to the program. Getting back to the tournament this year is a big part of that, but it is also important to remember the way they helped stabilize a scandal-ridden program during the Norm Roberts era. 

    Those days are gone, hopefully forever, and St. John's is back where they belong on the basketball landscape. Steve Lavin has already recruited well and he will surely get a boost from what happened this season. All the seniors mean that there will be significant changes but the program feels like it is back on the right track. 

    That probably won't make anyone wonder what might have been if Kennedy is able to play, but it should make things easier before too much longer. This season was a spectacular success for St. John's, even if the final chapter ends with sadness.  

    Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City. You can follow him on Twitter and he is also a contributor to Pro Football Talk.