We can certainly talk about the whistle, because there are plenty of hoarse, angry folks — starting with the nine members of the St. John’s basketball team who took shifts on the floor — who heard that whistle in their sleep Thursday night, who will do let it disrupt their sleep patterns for the next several months.
It’s what happened in the 15 or so minutes before that whistle cut through the collective pleas and pleas from 19,812 fans that will really keep them up at night. With 15 minutes and 10 seconds left in this Big East Quarterfinals, the Johnnies led Villanova, 44-27, and you could hear TVs across the country switching to FS1 and Raf wanting to hear Raf raving and Gus galloping.
Exactly 10 minutes later the four of them were downstairs and it felt like someone had kicked a plug out of the garden wall.
And yet the Johnnies came back: they refused to walk away, refused to let go of the game, the night, the season. Playing with four fouls, Posh Alexander was everywhere, drawing attacks and fearlessly putting the ball in the basket. Julian Champagnie was brilliant, and everywhere. And when Stef Smith converted an old-fashioned three-pointer with 2:08 left…
Spring. Look at this. Johnnies back by a point. Johnnies 128 seconds from a miracle spot in the semifinals. Johnnies, two games behind Valhalla.
“That didn’t surprise us,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright. “We knew exactly how good a St. John’s team is.”
He used the present tense either out of politeness or out of habit; until then the Wildcats had beaten the Johnnies 66-65 and, yes, the margin of victory came on a call that’s probably 100 percent legitimate, with 2½ minutes into the first half and probably a whistle-eater with 2½ seconds into the game.
(Let’s put it another way: if the uniforms and scores were reversed, do YOU think St. John’s would be allowed to shoot free throws there?)
But we digress.
“I just got out of a really emotional locker room,” said St. Johns coach Mike Anderson. “And you can understand why.”
If you’ve been watching this team all season, you know it by heart, like their phone number or their address or the words “My country is yours”. This was the 11th time the Johnnies lost a game in single digits. Think about it. Win five of those – less than half – and this game is disappointing, but still just a warm-up for an 8-9 game anywhere in next weekend’s NCAA tournament.
Let that serve as the epitaph of this team:
“Good enough to break your heart.”
And they know it, believe it, because nobody’s heart was broken more than that of the children in the red robes who spent so much of the night giving a sold-out house in the garden and believing they were on the verge of doing something remarkable to do.
“They kept their hearts and everything else on the ground,” Anderson said, “and came up a little short.”
Said Champagnie, who finished a game high with 23 points: “Everyone here can see our faces. That is hard.”
And Smith: “We had a lot of these types of games that came down to a play that could change the outcome, win or lose. How can we make this one game? And we fell short again tonight.”
Wright was right; There was no shame in Villanova being beaten by St. John’s, who have proved in real bouts and starts this year they can play with a team like the Wildcats. But playing with a team and beating it are two different skills. And it was a series of one-play moments that defined this game and this season:
The block call on Alexander, which sure looked like a charge, gave him a cheap foul late in the first half. The two empty possessions in the final 90 seconds as the Johnnies desperately needed to extend a one-point lead. Yes: the game-winning foul. And yes: not realizing how much time 2.8 seconds really is, settle for a prayer stroke instead of trying to get a better shot at the buzzer.
“I love these guys,” Anderson said. “All of them.”
There was a lot to love, really. But there was so much more that this group could have accomplished together. This will be primarily what the Johnnies and their fans will visit when they all start dreaming about basketball again. Good enough to break your heart. Again and again.
https://nypost.com/2022/03/10/st-johns-were-good-enough-to-break-your-heart-again/ St. John’s were good enough to break your heart – again