Commentary

Johnnies get rid of the goose egg

Suddenly hot St. John's upsets Notre Dame to snap 0-for-10 skid vs. ranked teams

Updated: February 25, 2012, 10:55 PM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- It finally got one.

After going 0-10 against ranked opponents this season, St. John's and its all-freshman starting five got off the schneid in their final home game, toppling No. 18 Notre Dame 61-58 on Saturday.

"Of course," swingman Amir Garrett said, when asked if this victory was particularly sweet. "That's the only ranked team we've beaten so far, so I think it's extra special. We were the underdogs coming in here, nobody thought we were gonna win."

[+] EnlargeSir'Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IISir'Dominic Pointer (15) and Amir Garrett (22) celebrate while Notre Dame's Eric Atkins despairs.

Notre Dame arrived in the Big Apple as one of the hottest teams in the country. The Fighting Irish (20-9, 12-4 Big East) had won nine consecutive games -- the longest Big East winning streak in school history -- and were playing to clinch a double-bye in the Big East tournament.

But St. John's was ahead in this game from the start. Up 31-25 at halftime, the Red Storm extended their lead to as many as 14 points, 45-31, with a little over 13 minutes remaining. Then, just when St. John's looked like it was taking control for good, Notre Dame started clawing its way back.

The 3-point shots weren't falling for the Fighting Irish, so they started feeding the ball inside to forwards Jack Cooley and Scott Martin (18 points apiece), and it paid off. Notre Dame cut the deficit to a single point, 57-56, with 1:28 remaining and clearly had the momentum on its side. This young St. John's team appeared ready to cave, as the Red Storm have on previous occasions this season.

Except this time, they didn't.

After a Martin bucket cut it to 59-58 with 44 seconds remaining, St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap called a 30-second timeout to draw up a play. It was supposed to be a pick-and-roll utilizing his top two scorers Moe Harkless and D'Angelo Harrison. But Notre Dame's defense was suffocating, not allowing Harrison to get his mitts on the ball.

With the shot clock winding down, Garrett decided to take things into his own hands. From way out at the right hash mark, Garrett drove left, split two defenders, avoided a third in the lane and laid it up and in to make it a three-point game.

"I heard [assistant] Coach Rico [Hines] on the sideline. He said, 'Go to work,'" Garrett said. "That was the only thing that went through my mind, and I just went to the basket."

Notre Dame raced back down the floor and created a decent game-tying look for Alex Dragicevich, but his 3-pointer from the left corner bounced harmlessly off the rim.

The Fighting Irish, who came in shooting 34.4 percent from beyond the arc, were an eye-gouging 4-for-31 (12.9 percent) on Saturday afternoon.

"A lot of credit to St. John's. I thought their defense really bothered us, it sped us up," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "We had some great looks. We didn't make enough of them. You're gonna have to make some more jump shots over the top of that zone to escape here today."

St. John's (13-16, 6-10 Big East), a team many people wrote off after a 94-64 loss to Seton Hall 11 days ago, has now won three in a row for the first time since December.

The Red Storm looked spent that Valentine's Day evening in Newark. But as it turns out, that loss has triggered this late-season surge -- both tactically and emotionally.

"We discovered through our defeat at Seton Hall that we had to pick up our ball pressure," Dunlap said. "Even if it was ugly, even if it increased our foul count, we felt that we played a very reactive defense against Seton Hall. We learned a lot from that game. So what we did was, we said, 'Hey, we're gonna bring up our pressure.'"

Garrett said the players were motivated by the embarrassing defeat. "It was like they took our heart from us," he said. "They beat us by a lot. We were just like, 'Man, that can't happen [again].'"

Harkless (22 points, nine rebounds) and Harrison (15 points) continue to lead the way -- both worthy of Big East Rookie of the Year. But in the past three wins, St. John's has gotten a major contribution from at least one of its other freshmen.

Against UCLA, Sir'Dominic Pointer scored 13 big points. The past two games, it's been Garrett, who had a career-high 18 against DePaul and 11 -- including the biggest bucket of all -- against Notre Dame.

"The fact of the matter is, the reason we've been able to win these three games, and close these games out when we couldn't earlier," Dunlap said, "is that Dom Pointer, Phil Greene, Amir Garrett specifically are growing offensively."

The team with just six players now has six Big East wins.

Six wins, and at least three more opportunities to go.

"I think we're just growing every day," Harkless said. "We can surprise a lot of people if we keep playing the way we are."

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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