Commentary

Red Storm facing wintry mix of issues

If Johnnies want to dance for first time since '02, they must right the ship -- and fast

Updated: January 27, 2011, 3:01 AM ET
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A storm struck our nation's capital on Wednesday -- but it wasn't of the red variety.

A white, wintry mix from above crippled the District of Columbia, resulting in a rather paltry crowd at the Verizon Center. But the home fans departed happy, as No. 20 Georgetown pummeled St. John's, 77-52.

After the game, a couple of St. John's players revealed that an internal storm may be brewing in the St. John's locker room as well.

"I think we just need to have a players-only meeting," guard Dwight Hardy said. "We just need to talk about getting back to the way we were playing when we started out 3-0 in this league. We can't afford to come out and play the way we've been playing."

"I said a couple things [in the locker room after the game], me and Dwight talked for a little bit," forward Justin Burrell said. "We didn't really address the group or anything like that, formal. ... That could possibly happen tomorrow, or something like that."

Just 23 days ago, St. John's (11-8, 4-4 in the Big East) was the talk of the college basketball world, following a 61-58 win over these same Hoyas at Madison Square Garden. New coach Steve Lavin was interviewed live on "SportsCenter" the following afternoon, basking in the glow of the Red Storm's first win over a ranked opponent in two years.

Since that game, however, the Red Storm have been reeling. They've now lost five of their past six games, heading into another very difficult matchup with No. 3 Duke on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

Granted, that Duke game will be the Red Storm's eighth straight against a team ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 -- a brutal stretch, by anyone's standards. But the margins of defeat in many of the losses is troubling -- 15 against Notre Dame, 17 against Syracuse, 25 against Louisville and now 25 against Georgetown.

This one was no contest down the stretch. St. John's cut a 13-point halftime deficit to five with 15:44 remaining, but was blown out of the building after that. Georgetown put on a clinic offensively, shooting 26-for-51 from the field (51 percent), 9-for-18 from beyond the 3-point line, and recording assists on 21 of those 26 field goals.

On the other side, Hardy was the only St. John's starter in double figures (10 points), but shot just 4-for-16 from the field. Justin Brownlee had only nine points, and D.J. Kennedy seven.

Steve Lavin
AP Photo/Evan VucciSteve Lavin and his troops have a lot to figure out before March.

"Clearly Georgetown played with intelligence, aggressiveness and they sustained their effort and level of execution for the 40 minutes, and thoroughly dominated us in every aspect of play," Lavin said.

Burrell was by far St. John's best player on the night, bringing great energy off the bench and posting 12 points and eight rebounds before fouling out. But Burrell was very despondent after the game.

"Very discouraged. Very discouraged," Burrell said, head down. "We have nobody to blame but ourselves. It's not the coaches' fault, it's not our fans, it's not the academic staff that we have. We're just not producing.

"One game it's the defensive end, one game it's the offensive end, one game it's free throws. We're just not getting it done."

Hardy was more specific when asked why he thinks the team is struggling.

"We've been coming out sluggish, we haven't been coming out with the right intensity in the first half," Hardy said. "And that has allowed us to get down at halftime by double-digit points. And as you know, we're not playing cupcake teams anymore. To come back from a large deficit against a good team is hard to do."

Kennedy, for his part, did not sound quite as distressed as his two fellow classmates.

"There's no need to panic," Kennedy said. "I feel like after every Big East loss, everybody feels like there's reason to panic. It's the Big East. We've seen Syracuse just take three losses [in a row]. We just happened to get the rough end of the schedule in the beginning."

The game against Duke does indeed mark the end of this most challenging month. But it's not like the team's schedule gets that much easier going forward. St. John's will play three more top-10 teams in February: UConn, Villanova and Pittsburgh.

Lavin said he has liked the resiliency his team has shown thus far. "To this point, just based on the time that I've been with them, they've been really good about the way they've come back [from losses]," Lavin said. "We'll have a better indication of that in the next couple of days of practices. But then the real proof is in the pudding, in terms of how do we play on Sunday against Duke."

The pressure is officially on now. If the Red Storm want to make the Big Dance for the first time since 2002, they have to right this ship. And quick.

"At the end of the day, our coaching staff has another shot at this next year," Burrell said. "We don't have another shot, so we have to figure it out."

"It's 10 seniors, it's our last year. This is all we've got left," Hardy said. "If we want to make it to the NCAAs, you've got to pick it up right now."

Kieran Darcy is an ESPNNewYork.com staff writer. He joined ESPN in August 2000 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, where he played four years of JV basketball.
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