Believe it or not, the epicenter of those tremors felt throughout New York City on Sunday evening was at Madison Square Garden.
No, the New York Knicks weren’t in the building. They haven’t won a game at the Garden since Dec. 1. Neither was the Rangers, who were beaten 6-5 by the Penguins in Pittsburgh earlier in the day.
The source of the rafter-shaking noise coming from the “World’s Most Famous Arena” was St. John’s, who provided a reminder that college basketball still carries plenty of clout around the Big Apple.
The dormant Big East program — led by a head coach in Chris Mullin who once led them to their highest peak in the 1980s as a player — overcame a 19-point deficit on Sunday to defeat No. 13 Villanova, the defending national champions, in a 71-65 triumph that likely punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
It was the first time since 2002 that the Red Storm took down Villanova in New York City as they await their first invitation to the Big Dance since 2015.
Sunday’s victory further bolstered St. John’s resume as a legitimate tournament contender. Villanova was the second ranked team St. John’s defeated this season, taking down Marquette twice in Big East play, and provided the fifth Quadrant One win for the Queens school.
St. John’s used a 20-5 second-half run to overturn a 48-34 second-half deficit against one of the best teams in the nation. While star guard and leading scorer Shamorie Ponds was limited to just 11 points on the night, LJ Figueroa (22) and Mustapha Heron (19) combined for 41 of St. Johns’ points on the night.
A third three-pointer of the game made by Figueroa — who had nine of the Red Storm’s 20 points during that run — with 3:53 remaining in the game gave St. John’s a 58-57 lead that it would not relinquish.
Heron helped ice the game at the line with four clutch free throws in the final 1:27 as he scored 10 of his 19 points in the evening’s last 11 minutes, much to the adoration of the Madison Square Garden crowd.
College basketball isn’t the first sport that comes to mind when thinking about the New York City landscape. Much of that has to do with the irrelevancy of its programs over the past 20 years. The Red Storm have made the NCAA Tournament just four times since 2000.
But the re-emergence of the program in 2018-19 helped bring out 19,182 fans to the Garden on Sunday as the building experienced a decibel level that hasn’t been heard since the Rangers were in the playoffs in the spring of 2017.
And it didn’t go unnoticed by the Johnnies.
“The energy was crazy in here. I never played in anything like it,” Heron said. “I can probably say that for most of our team, it was fun. The fans, they came out, they were amped. I think we gave them what they deserved.”