BC overtakes decimated Storm

Updated: February 9, 2004, 12:12 PM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- After one of the worst weeks in St. John's basketball history, a depleted team did its best to compete in front of a supportive crowd at Madison Square Garden.

Six St. John's players were expelled or suspended for breaking curfew to go to a strip club last Thursday near Pittsburgh.

What had already been a long season for the Red Storm fell to levels few around the tradition-rich program could have imagined.

Eight players, four on scholarship and four walk-ons, lost 89-61 to Boston College on Sunday before a very supportive crowd of 7,453 at Madison Square Garden. Even a loss, the Red Storm's ninth in their last 10 games, helped a program in disarray.

"The ability to represent St. John's and its tradition under adverse conditions and for walk-ons to find themselves in the mecca of college basketball and respond the way they did was tremendous," St. John's coach Kevin Clark said.

St. John's (5-15, 0-9 Big East) was within 35-32 with 17:48 to play in the game. Thoughts of an upset were definitely in the air for a few seconds but reality hit hard when Boston College went on an 18-5 run and took control.

Reality hasn't been good to St. John's all season.

The program had already endured the dismissal of senior Willie Shaw after he was arrested for possession of marijuana along with former St. John's guard Marcus Hatten. On Dec. 19, six games into his sixth season, Mike Jarvis became the first Big East coach fired during a season. Clark was appointed interim coach and the Red Storm tied a school record with seven straight losses.

Following last Wednesday's 71-51 loss to No. 4 Pittsburgh, a 38-year-old woman told police she was gang raped by St. John's players she met at a strip club outside the city. No criminal charges were filed against the players, but St. John's quickly disciplined them.

Grady Reynolds, a senior, was expelled from the school. Leading scorer Elijah Ingram, a sophomore, and senior Abraham Keita were permanently suspended from the team and both could be expelled.

Freshman Lamont Hamilton and senior Mohamed Diakite were suspended, and freshman Tyler Jones faces lesser discipline that will be determined by Clark.

The public reaction was strong with blame placed on Jarvis, the players or the administration. Rev. Donald J. Harrington, the school president, said it was the players who had to be held responsible for their actions.

The support for those players who remained was strong from the start Sunday.

"The fans greeted us with a nice ovation," senior guard Andre Stanley said. "It was good to be out there and feel the fans behind us. It was definitely a good feeling to be out there and represent my school."

Kyle Cuffe, the other remaining senior scholarship player, said it was "great to see the walk-ons come out there and play with great energy and effort."

"Even though we lost, I am still happy," he said. "I am proud we have a good supporting cast."

Cuffe was asked what he would say to those players who weren't there.

"I don't know," he said. "That moment when we saw they weren't there was at practice on Saturday and I got that out of my system."

Sean Marshall had 23 points for the Eagles (15-7, 4-5), who had lost three of their last four games, while Uka Agbai added 18 points and Craig Smith had 15.

"It is a league win. I am not going to discount it," Boston College coach Al Skinner said. "We are trying to get back into the middle of this league and recapture some things I felt we lost early in the season. It is an important win for us and if we didn't get it what would it say about our club?"

Daryll Hill and Stanley, the two scholarship guards available, each had 16 points for St. John's, while walk-on Phil Missere, who played 1 minute this season before this game, had 13 points.

Missere, whose father teaches at St. John's, is a cousin of former St. John's star Robert Werdann. He fouled out with 4:37 to play and received a standing ovation.

"Every kid from New York wants to play for St. John's," Missere said. "It was nice to hear the fans cheer. I never thought I would walk off the court to a standing ovation. It was nice to see the fans come out and support us."

St. John's has seven regular-season games to play and it doesn't look like it will be one of the 12 teams to qualify for the Big East tournament. Then will come the process of hiring a new coach and restoring the tradition the program has had.

"People understand frailties, you can't be St. Joseph every day," St. John's Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca said. "The kids played hard, what else can you ask for? Who's going to remember what the score was today. Unfortunately, people will remember the wounds, the bleeding, but that too will heal."

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press