As three regions were revealed and 10 other Big East teams discovered their destinies, one thought went through the mind of Justin Burrell.
“After the third bracket, at this point, I’m kind of wondering are they going to give us a call or did they make a mistake,” Burrell said. “So finally to see our name called on the fourth bracket, the last actual part of it, we were excited.”
The wait was worth it. Not only are the Johnnies dancing for the first time since 2002, but they are the sixth seed in the Southeast, perhaps the easiest region. St. John’s plays Gonzaga on Thursday in Denver.
“I think it was better than I dreamed,” forward Sean Evans said. “Today was a day full of butterflies and jitters. Every time they go to commercial, the stomach is turning.”
Nervousness eventually turned into elation, and the reaction was apparent compared to top-seeded teams such as Duke and Kansas. While those teams remained subdued, taking the business-as-usual approach, the Red Storm leapt out of their seats at Smith and Wollensky Steakhouse in Midtown, even jumping on the tables when the CBS cameras weren’t on them.
D.J. Kennedy was about the only player not jumping after tearing his ACL in last week’s Big East tournament loss to Syracuse. While the senior swing forward will travel with the team, the Red Storm plan on using the injury as a rallying point. Evans crated T-shirts for a “Do It For D.J.” campaign, and the topic is already trending on Twitter.
The Johnnies’ stock has been trending upward, winning eight of 10, and meet a relatively familiar foe out West. Gonzaga, the West Coast Conference tournament champions, beat the Red Storm in the second round of the 2000 NCAA tournament. It’ll match up with a team that had to wait 40 minutes to finally hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
“They can call us first or last — as long as they call us,” Evans said.