St. John’s brimming with confidence in effort to make NCAA tournament

Steve Lavin
Steve Lavin and the Red Storm are making a late case for the NCAA tournament.
Credit: Getty Images

There was no darker point in St. John’s basketball season than Jan. 16. The Johnnies walked off the court at Carnesecca Arena after a double overtime loss to Providence with the knowledge they blew chance after chance to turn around their season.

They haven’t wasted that opportunity since.

After their biggest win of the season Sunday night — a 70-65 win over No. 12 Creighton — the Red Storm is riding a three-game winning streak and have won six of seven games since the Providence loss. The only loss in that time period was to Creighton, avenged the last time out.

And suddenly the Red Storm (15-9) is in the NCAA tournament hunt after falling to 9-8 on Jan. 16.

“I feel like we can beat anybody we play right now,” sophomore and leading-rebounder JaKarr Sampson said after the Creighton win. “What we’ve been stressing is getting off to the right start. That was the problem earlier in the season. We would always start slow and dig ourselves a hole. On this stretch we’ve been getting off to really great starts so that’s the key. Getting off to great starts and carrying it throughout the game.”

That confidence will be key down the stretch with seven games to boost their NCAA tournament resume. If you put stock in such things, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has St. John’s as one of his “Next Four Out” in his Feb. 10 Bracketology.

It’s clear, regardless of where exactly and how large it is, the Red Storm is squarely on the tournament bubble.

They begin their tournament push with a big game Thursday night against fellow old Big East-rival Seton Hall at the Prudential Center.

“You want to win every game but it’s rewarding to see the development coming given our earlier struggles,” head coach Steve Lavin said. “We’re not satisfied, and cannot afford to be complacent as we haven’t accomplished anything of significance yet.”

St. John’s has winnable games against Xavier, Georgetown and DePaul — all at home — as part of their final seven. But they lost to all three in the ugly six-game losing streak topped off by the loss against Providence.

“I’m as proud of this group as any I’ve coached in terms of resiliency, gumption, fight back and character,” Lavin said. “I think this group is developing at a nice rate. The hardship we faced earlier in the season seems to have forged a certain strength. We’re not satisfied, we haven’t achieved anything of significance, but [the Creighton] win is another hurdle that has been cleared and an indication that this team is improving.”

Follow Metro New York Sports Editor Mark Osborne on Twitter @MetroNYSports.


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