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Tag: big east

Why St. John’s Just Became Mike Anderson’s Team

ROBBINS NEST

By Lenn Robbins

St John’s #30 LJ Figueroa clebrates after sinking a 3 point basket late in the 2nd half tonight

Nolan Richardson, creator of “40 Minutes of Hell,” once said this about his former player, Mike Anderson:

“There are those that play to play and those who play to win, and Mike was playing to win in every ball game.”

Mike Anderson ,in tonight’s opening game of he Big East/Neil Miller/The New York Extra/copyright 2020

For the first 20 minutes of Wednesday night’s opening round game of the Big East Conference Tournament, Anderson’s St. John’s team was playing (pathetically) to play. In the second half, the Red Storm played like their coach, erasing a 15-point second half deficit with a 23-0 closing run to storm past reviled rival Georgetown, 75-62, in The Garden.

St John’S #30 LJ Figueroa pulls down a rebound in the 1st half tonight Neil Miller/The New York Extra/copyright 2020

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” said forward LJ Figueroa, who had a game-high 22 points. “Coach always emphasizes we’re never out of game. We just go out there, play as hard as we can. I mean, honestly, I don’t think anybody knew on the court that we were on a 23-0 run. It just felt like we were out there having fun, and that’s how it’s supposed to feel.”

It was the biggest come-from-behind victory for The Johnnies in 41 years of conference tournament play, an impressive achievement for Anderson, who is in his first season in Queens. He assembled this team on the fly after getting the job in mid-April.

The Big East announced that it will limit attendance for the rest of the tournament because of the spread of the coronavirus. Each team will receive an allotment of 200 tickets per game.

St. John’s is not the most talented team in the Big East but you could do worse walking down a dark alley with these guys by your side. Even after missing their first seven shots of the second half (and committing one turnover) the Johnnies, continued to play to win after falling behind 48-33.

When Georgetown’s Terrell Allen made a layup with 6:31 left, the Hoyas had repulsed a couple of St. John’s mini runs and coach Patrick Ewing seemed to have his team in control with a 62-52 lead. They didn’t score again.

“I thought the last six minutes was a classic,’’ said Anderson.

Not for Georgetown.

“It still doesn’t feel real, to be honest with you,” said guard Jagan Mosley. “After their, I guess, 20-0 run, it kind of still hasn’t hit me that the game ended like that.”

St. John’s forced 10 straight misses and four turnovers. The Hoyas finish 15-17 unless they get a bid to minor postseason tournament.

St. Johns’ 17-15 will face top-seeded Creighton (24-7) at noon Thursday in what will be a near-empty Madison Square Garden. DePaul (16-16), a 70-65 winner over Xavier (19-12) will face Villanova.

St. John’s scorched the Bluejays, 91-71, on March 1st. It was Creighton’s worse conference loss of the season. Creighton will be without guard Marcus Zegarowski who will have surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus suffered in the regular-season finale.

But for one night Anderson should cherish the night they went from playing to play to playing to win.

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The Hall Has What it Takes to Cut Down the Nets

ROBBINS NEST

File photo /Neil Miller/ The New York Extra/copyright 2020

By Lenn Robbins

The time between the end of the regular season and the beginning of conference tournament play is a little like the NFL Combine: Players that have had solid seasons are stripped to their undies while scouts try to find flaws.

No wonder why Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard is in damage control.

The Pirates had, by any measure, a terrific season. They went 21-9 overall and grabbed a share of the Big East regular season title at 13-5 with Creighton and Villanova.

They did this despite losing top scorer Myles Powell for a couple of games with a concussion and versatile forward Sandro Mamukelashvili for 10 games with a broken wrist. The Pirates beat Maryland and snapped a 17-game road losing streak at Villanova.

Heckuva year.  Until the final week.

Villanova edged Seton Hall, 79-77, in The Prudential Center. Then the Pirates got drilled 77-60 at Creighton. Had Seton Hall won either of those two games they would have claimed their first outright league title since 1993.

While the Pirates sat in a funereal visiting locker room in Creighton’s CHI Health Center, the Bluejays, who claimed the No.1 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament, partied with their fans and cut down the nets.

Seton Hall had gone from the team to beat to the team that couldn’t close it out.

“I wish I could bring my kids out here right now because they’re cutting down the nets and I’ve got 13 kids who think they failed miserably,” Willard told reporters after the game. “I just tried to tell them, this is an unbelievable accomplishment.

“Yes, we had a chance to win it outright, we had two chances and it didn’t come through for us, but to take away from what this team has done and what this team accomplished, it would be a big mistake.”

This would be another mistake: Picking against the Pirates to win the Big East Conference Tournament which begins Wednesday night in The Garden. St. John’s (16-15) and Georgetown (15-16), two of the most storied teams in the league, tip off at 7 p.m. followed DePaul (15-16) vs Xavier (19-12).

Seton Hall, the No.4 seed, opens Thursday night against Marquette (18-12). The Hall won both regular-season games, 69-55 and 88-79. A third win (not easy) would set up a likely semifinal round rematch with Nova, the No. 2.

The Pirates are the pick because of their experience, toughness, defense and the ability of Powell to turn a game. That’s what it takes to cut down the nets.

Anderson The Entertainer In His St. John’s Debut

Robbins Nest

St Johns caoch Mike Anderson at Tuesdays game /Neil Miller/ The New York Extra 2019

By Lenn Robbins

If Hollywood ever decides to create a remake of the Oscar-winning epic, Gladiator, Mike Anderson should be the one standing in the middle of the colosseum bellowing, “Are You Not Entertained?!”

Anderson made his St. John’s coaching debut Wednesday and the Johnnies pressed, ran, passed and defended Mercer in a 109-79 blowout that wasn’t that close. The Johnnies forced 24 turnovers which led to 30 points.

“I hope our fans enjoyed it,” Anderson told reporters after the game. “It’s an entertaining style of basketball, but it’s winning basketball.”

That remains to be seen in the Big East, where some of the greatest guards that ever played the game took their city handle and carved up opposing defenses. Safe to say Villanova, Seton Hall, Marquette, et al will be better prepared and certainly more skilled to handle the Anderson’s style.

The flip side is that no team in the Big East plays this style. It’s similar to playing Army in football. That option is impossible to prepare for.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here, almost as quickly as St. John’s got ahead of Mercer and really never let up. The Johnnies led 15-6 by the first media timeout and the Bears should have begun warming up the bus right there and then.

Anderson’s hire was a bit of a head-scratcher. He has used this swarm-of-wasps style to succeed at Tulsa, Missouri and Arkansas, but he couldn’t tell you where to get a good slice in the city no less the top games in the Grady and Lincoln history.

The Johnnies had one of their own – the best player in school history – on the bench these last four seasons. Chris Mullin left after the death of his brother and a feeling that the administration wasn’t sufficiently backing him and the program.

If there are spirits in Carnesecca Arena than Mullin and St. John’s will both find success.

Certainly, there was spirit in the bandbox on the corner of Union and Utopia. Anderson’s style is right out of the West 4th Street cage and every other proving ground in the city.  The Johnnies got right up in Mercer’s chest. Secondary defenders were eager to help. Mustapha Heron (25 points), LJ Figueroa (18) and Nick Rutherford (14) combined for 12 assists.

Defensive is a lot easier to sell when it turns into offense. The Johnnies  score 40 fastbreak points.

For one night, Anderson sold his vision better than Popeye’s is selling its chicken sandwich. The 109 points were the most for a St. John’s coach making his debut.

“For two hours every game, we are going to provide sheer entertainment,” Anderson told reporters earlier this week. You won’t even want to take a bathroom break.”

Bad News for St. John’s: UConn Rejoins the Big East

Robbins Nest

By Lenn Robbins

file photo big east 2019 nysportsextra Neil Miller

  The Big East Conference welcomed back Connecticut on Thursday, which is great news for the league and bad news for St. John’s

  Another elite program with elite facilities and full commitment to its men’s and women’s basketball programs joins the ranks of Butler, Creighton, Marquette, Villanova, Xavier and others.

big east file photo nysportsextra Neil Miller
file hoto big east 2019 nysportsextra neil miller

  I mention those programs because all have recently built or announced plans for new training and/or arenas or did major renovations on exiting home courts.

 Let’s not forget Providence and Seton Hall, which has been fielding NIT or NCAA Tournament teams on a consistent basis of late.

  DePaul is showing signs of life again. They swept the Johnnies in the regular season. And Georgetown has benefitted from the hiring of its living legend – Patrick Ewing.

 Which brings us back to the Johnnies-come-lately.

big east file poto nysportsexta Neil Miiler

 Their living legend – Chris Mullin – decided to leave his alma after four seasons.

 Their on-campus arena was ‘renovated’ [see new lights and a nifty paint job] in 2005.

 The Johnnies made their 29th NCAA Tournament last season. They were the last at-large team taken. They were dusted 74-65 by Arizona State and its new coach, Bobby Hurley.

 As soon as Mullin opted to leave, new AD Mike Cragg, formerly at Duke, pushed all of his chips in and thought he had convinced Duke All-American Hurley to return to the metropolitan area. Hurley secured himself a new deal in Phoenix. That’s the business.

big east file photo nysportsextra Neil Miller

  Cragg went to Plan D

[not sure there was a B or C]

and hired former Arkansas coach Mike Anderson, who still needs a subway map. To Anderson’s credit, and perhaps his survival, he hired Steve DeMeo and Van Macon, two metropolitan area recruiters.

  But it’s going to take a lot more than that for St. John’s to see the top half of the conference any time soon. Seton Hall is a recruiting power in the metropolitan area. Villanova, which won NCAA titles in 2018 and 2016, can recruit anywhere.

  Which brings us back to UConn. The Huskies cleaned the Johnnie’s clock in recruiting for the last two decades, albeit perhaps with some questionable enticements. The Huskies won the 2014 title under former coach and NCAA rules violator Kevin Ollie.

UConn replaced Ollie with Danny Hurley, who also is a name well known to prep and AAU coaches. The announcement that UConn was rejoining, after leaving in 2013 for a football home in the American Athletic Conference, came in The Garden, the Johnnies home court for most Big East games.

  There were far too many games in the 2000s when a UConn-St. John’s game in The Garden sounded like it was being played in the Hartford Civic Center. The Johnnies couldn’t even be kings in their own castle.

  Cragg announced in February a new initiative to boost St. John’s athletics. He hired a Dallas-based real estate development company, The Beck Group, which he worked with at Duke. Cragg said the objective is looking for “facility improvement, renovation, replacement, and new construction over the next 10 years,’’ which is 10 years too late, but it’s a start.

  UConn has won four national titles. The Johnnies, who have never won an NCAA title, have made just five NCAA Tournament appearances since the calendar flipped to this century. Four times they lost their first game.

 Nova has those two titles in the last four years. Seton Hall, which beat Kentucky last season, is the gritty program you don’t want to play. Creighton averages more than 17,000 fans for every home game. Butler plays in one of the great basketball shrines in Hinkle Fieldhouse.

  This is not the same Big East that UConn left. Louisville, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse are gone to the ACC. But UConn is back, which is good for the league and bad for St. John’s. For a New York college basketball fan, that’s a tough sentence to write.