It was heartbreak for the Johnnies on Thursday afternoon at the Garden.
No, not the fact Syracuse rallied to beat St. John’s 79-73 to advance to Friday night’s semifinals against UConn. The pain from that loss can be washed away with a good night’s sleep knowing the Storm are going dancing in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.
The true heartbreak will be written all over D.J. Kennedy’s face when he finally hears his team’s name called out on Selection Sunday. The senior forward, who has endured two coaches and one enormous bout with underachievement, won’t play in his only NCAA tournament appearance after tearing his ACL. The school said he is "out indefinitely."
Kennedy injured his right knee on a drive to the basket just six minutes into the quarterfinal loss. He’s the Red Storm’s third-leading scorer (10.7 points), leading rebounder (5.7 boards) and their best slasher.
"I've wanted to play in the NCAA tournament since I picked up a basketball in grade school, and this is a real blow," Kennedy said. "I am disappointed on a personal level, but I am happy that I will be with my teammates on the road during the tournament, supporting them the way they always support me."
The rest of the nine St. John's seniors promised to rally around their fallen teammate.
“Somebody is going to have to fill his shoes,” Dwight Hardy said. “The thing about this team is we’re so deep that, at any given moment, anybody can step up, but to lose a player like him is crucial and we’re going to have to a find a way to excel.”
They almost pulled off the win without him, as Hardy and Justin Brownlee combined for 37 points, as the Johnnies shot a much improved 47 percent against a zone that stifled them back in January.
“We had to have someone step up and D.J. brings a lot to the game – offensively, defensively, scoring and rebounding,” Sean Evans said. “We had to do more work that we usually do, but I think we did a pretty good job but didn’t pull it out at the end.”
The Red Storm never led in the final 4:05 but still had chances to get over the hump, such as when Paris Horne missed an open 3 with 1:41 remaining. That would have given St. John’s a one-point lead, but instead its fate was sealed after Fab Melo took a bounce pass for a layup with 32 seconds left. Hardy was called for traveling in a four-point game five seconds later.
“(I was) proud of the way they were able to overcome adversity with the loss of D.J,” Coach Steve Lavin said. “They responded with a great effort but Syracuse got enough stops and made enough buckets down the stretch.”
The question now is, can the Johnnies make enough buckets down the stretch next week without the versatile Kennedy?
“We just have to rally for him,” Hardy said. “We should be fine.”
Officials withdraw following fallout
Everyone makes mistakes — just not in the Big East tourney.
The three officials who erred during the final moments of Wednesday’s Rutgers-St. John’s game voluntarily withdrew from working the rest of the tournament.
In a statement, Big East commissioner John Marinatto said the officials withdrew “in the best interests of everyone involved, including coaches, student-athletes, game officials and Big East member institutions.”