NEW YORK -- Things have been tough around the St. John's basketball program the past two seasons: a total of 15 wins, a coach fired six games into the season, self-probation for NCAA violations, players dismissed after an incident following a curfew-breaking trip to a strip club in Pittsburgh.
It wasn't surprising that Daryll Hill was asked after Tuesday night's 68-56 victory over Louisville (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 17 AP) at Madison Square Garden about how big a win it was for the program.
"St. John's is supposed to be here," he said of enjoying a win over a ranked team. "It feels great right now to finally get a chance to beat a great team."
Eugene Lawrence matched his career high with 18 points and St. John's shook off a horrid first half to beat the Cardinals, who were playing without leading scorer Taquan Dean, who sat out with an ankle injury.
There was nothing that was going to dampen second-year coach Norm Roberts' feeling about this victory.
"It's a huge win for our program," he said. "But we have to take this and learn from it just as we have learned from our losses. If we can have the same focus we did this week in practice and in this game, we have a chance to compete with anybody in the country."
Lawrence scored the Red Storm's first 12 points of the game and had 14 at halftime as the Cardinals took a 32-28 lead. St. John's shot just 25 percent (5-for-20).
The Red Storm (9-6, 2-2 Big East) didn't need much from Lawrence in the second half as the other starters began to hit shots. St. John's made eight of its first 13 shots in the second half, outscoring Louisville 19-7 to take a 47-39 lead with 11:07 to play.
"We were patient and we got the ball inside and the guys were setting their feet when they shot," Roberts said. "We have to remember we didn't do anything out of the ordinary. We made shots in our rhythm. We rebounded like we're supposed to. We defended like we do in practice every day. If we continue to do those things and improve we are going to have success."
Louisville (13-4, 1-3), which lost for the third time in five games, couldn't get any offense going in the second half, especially without Dean, who missed his second of three games with an ankle injury.
St. John's extended the lead to as much as 64-48 with 3:33 to go on a layup by Lawrence.
"None of these guys have been prime-time players with the exception of Taquan," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said of his team that has two sophomores and five freshmen in the rotation in its first season in the Big East. "It is a whole new team and it is going to take time to nurture this team.
"We may have survived a little bit if we were in Conference USA with this team, but surviving in the Big East is another story. You have to grow up in a hurry."
Lamont Hamilton had 15 points for St. John's, including a 3-pointer and a three-point play during a 10-3 run that made it 47-39.
Anthony Mason Jr. had 14 points and 11 rebounds for St. John's, while Hill, playing his second game after missing four with a knee injury, had nine points and 10 rebounds.
St. John's, which leads the Big East in points allowed at 56.7 per game, outrebounded Louisville 41-26 and held the Cardinals 17 points below their average.
"We have to toughen up. That is one of the reasons we are not rebounding that well," Pitino said. "We just don't have a strong frontcourt from a rebounding standpoint."
Juan Palacios, Brandon Jenkins and Andre McGee each had 13 points for Louisville, which went 14-for-24 from the free throw line, 10-for-20 in the second half, including missing its first six attempts.
Mason had 12 of his 14 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer and a putback. The Red Storm made four of their first six shots to shake off the terrible first half of shooting when Lawrence went 3-for-5 and the rest of the team was 2-for-15.
The starters scored all but two of the Red Storm's points for the game and St. John's finished 6-for-13 from 3-point range after entering the game shooting 25.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Pitino didn't want to take anything away from St. John's for the win, but he did want people to understand where his team is.
"Any win in the Big East is a big win," he said. "I will say this to you, 'Don't get carried away with beating Louisville.' Any win in the Big East is great, but I wouldn't use it as a barometer. We were never a Top 20 team. I never understood it. In this game, experience wins."
Dean, who averages 15.1 points, missed the UC Davis game with the ankle injury. He played Sunday in a loss to Pittsburgh but had two points in 12 minutes as he was visibly hampered by the injury.