By BEN BASKIN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
NEW YORK — St John’s is showing the basketball world that they aren’t out of NCAA Tournament contention yet.
Not if they keep winning games at the torrid pace that they have been recently.
The Johnnies kept their winning ways going on Sunday night, eviscerating Big East rival Georgetown 82-60 behind a career-high 24 points from freshman guard Rysheed Jordan in front of 10,340 fans at Madison Square Garden.
St John’s has now won eight of their last nine contests, including five straight, all five coming in-conference. That is especially important when considering that they started a disappointing 0-5 in the Big East, and are now a surging 7-6 against Big East foes. What seemed like an impossibility just a month ago, now seems more and more likely every game.
“We’d love to make the NCAA tournament, but naturally at this point, it’s the analysts, and Joe Lunardi, and the selection committee [who are thinking about that],” coach Steve Lavin said. “We have to just continue to play good basketball, accumulate enough wins, build our résumé, then we can take it out of the selection committee’s hands.”
It is important to note that Lunardi did not have St. John’s making the tournament in his latest “bracketology” report, nor did he even have them in his “last five in” category. However, with every win that St. Johns piles on now, they continue to bolster their chances.
”If we keep winning, it’s in our hands right now,” junior Sir’Dominic Pointer said. “As long as we don’t lose, I feel we have a good enough schedule, and our RPI and all that is good enough to make it.”
It was Jordan — who scouts told SNY has a bright future but should stay in school another year — who got the Johnnies going early against Georgetown.
Jordan had the first seven points of the game, two layups bookending a three-pointer, as St. Johns roared out to a 15-0 lead. When Jakarr Sampson stepped up to the line for two free throws almost seven minutes into the game, St. Johns fans were mockingly chanting, “Score a basket.”
Georgetown got their first shot to drop from the floor, a step-back three from Markel Starks to make it 17-5, with 12:55 left in the first half. St. John’s lead did not drop back down into the single-digits until Jabril Trawick hit a 3-pointer to make the score 56-47 with 11 minutes left to play. Yet St. Johns was able to fight off any possibility of a comeback, looking very strong on both ends of court down the stretch.
While Lavin said that he expected some troubles early in the season due to an inexperienced team and a freshman point guard, during this win streak St. John’s has looked almost like a completely different team than they did just a month ago.
“We never put our heads down and we just kept grinding it out,” junior D’Angelo Harrison said about that rough patch to start the season. Harrison finished with 24 points and six boards.
The win also represented retribution for St. Johns after they fell at Georgetown 77-60 back on Jan. 4 and was their first win over the Hoyas in their last seven attempts. St John’s was coming off a last-second 68-67 win over Seton Hall and a huge 70-65 win against then-No. 12 Creighton.
With Villanova losing big again to Creighton on Sunday, 101-80, St. John’s might pose the best threat to Creighton in the Big East Tournament next month at the Garden.
“Naturally our goal is always to make the NCAA Tournament and to do something special in March,” coach Steve Lavin said. “But we try to stay grounded, don’t get caught up in the fantasy of the future.”