Bring New York Back
Are the 8-1 Johnnies here to stay?
Is a St. John’s resurgence upon us? Well, SJU certainly doesn’t have anyone drinking the Cool Aid yet, albeit the Johnies are off to their best record in recent memory.
While the 7-1 Red Storm may have played Duke tough, SJU has yet to see another formidable foe. They defeated an SEC puppy in Georgia (one which exposed SJU’s defense at times) during the Junior Varsity-like, undercard game (of the Big East/SEC Invational) before a half-empty Madison Square Garden Wednesday night.
There’s still a search warrant out for their fan base, which needs to come harder this year. Especially with a wide open Big East. Their first Big East game is at the tail end of the month against Georgetown, whom they sent home packing in the first round of last year’s Big East Tournament. The Red Storm looked like the gang that can’t shoot straight in a crushing loss to Marquette in the second round.
But the Johnnies seemed to have turned a corner in this young season. At least their pre-Big East schedule doesn’t consist of teams on the same plane as NJIT and Bethune-Cookman this time.
At least there’s less fans calling for Norm Roberts’ job, now that the game general has brought in scoring guard Dwight Hardy and a versatile forward in Justin Brownlee. At least Roberts showed some sense of control by disciplining three starters for arriving three minutes late to the team bus Wednesday.
Yes, the Johnnies have feasted on some also-rans and eked out a three-point win against 4-7 Brown earlier this season, but they’ve also shown size and oceanic depth. They’ve been sorely lacking in both categories the past few years. Hope is on the horizon for the once prosperous program. A team that once carried the NCAA torch proudly for a basketball-crazed city, SJU is starting to show signs of life after a long sabbatical.
DJ Kennedy has been playing in a different zip code this season. The dieseled-up junior G/F is averaging 17 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 dimes. DJK, he of the ill tats and Pittsburgh-bred baller pedigree, is playing an aggressive brand of defense and shooting the rock at a 55 percent clip.
In the scratch-and-claw effort against Duke, Kennedy dropped 18 points–all in the second half–and dished out a game-high 9 dimes. In the Johnnies’ aforementioned 66-56 win over Georgia in the Big East/SEC Invitational, DJK stuffed the stat sheet to the tune of 11 points, 7 boards, 5 assists and 4 steals.
Anthony Mason Jr, the team’s leading scorer the past two years, is slated to return at the end of the month. His presence provides an instant scoring punch. What kind of immediate impact does Mase Jr hope to have on this Johnnies team?
“Wherever I can help, I’m gonna help,” said young Mase. “We have a lot to prove, I think we’re showing it. We’re skipping along right now, we’re doing a lot of good things. We just have to keep this going.”
While the Big East’s elite may not take these words as warning, they could start to hear the footsteps once Mase returns.
“Everyone is playing well,” Mason Jr added. “DJ’s stepping up.”
Zach Smart has written for Big East Basketball Report, Hoops Addict and The East Coast Bias. Read more on his blog.