Seniors bid fond farewell to Carnesecca

Red Storm win final home game before what they hope will be memorable postseason

Updated: March 6, 2011, 1:48 AM ET
By Kieran Darcy |

NEW YORK -- When it was all over -- when St. John's had finally fly-swatted away pesky South Florida, breaking open a tight battle by outscoring USF by 19 in the final nine minutes and change -- the Red Storm players shook hands with their opponents and then quickly huddled en masse at midcourt.

Senior forward Sean Evans showed off some flashy dance moves in the middle of the pack, while the rest of the players locked arms and swayed from side to side around him. And then, while "New York, New York" blared over the loudspeakers, the players took a victory lap around Carnesecca Arena, slapping the hands of eager fans along the way.

It was a most fitting end to a regular season that St. John's fans will not forget for a long, long time.

[+] EnlargeSean Evans
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireSean Evans scored nine points and grabbed nine boards in his final game at Carnesecca Arena.

"It was touching for us," said guard Malik Boothe, one of nine senior players honored before St. John's 72-56 win in front of a sellout crowd of 5,602. "Because the fans, they stuck with us for four years. The first three years were rough for us, and them. And I think for us to have a season like we're having right now, it's something that we deserve and I think it's also something that they deserve."

In the three previous seasons -- for those who've been around four years (Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee were junior college transfers) -- this group had gone 11-19, 16-18 and 17-16, failing to make the NCAA tournament all three times.

But with the victory on Saturday night, St. John's wrapped up this regular season at 20-10 -- its first 20-win regular season since 1999-2000. And the Red Storm finished tied for third in the hellacious Big East, at 12-6.

"This is so unusual. As far as we know, it's the first time in the history of college basketball there's ever been 10 seniors," said coach Steve Lavin, including former player Rob Thomas, who was also honored prior to the game. "So I'm just so pleased that as a group they could experience going out with a victory in front of the students and family and friends."

South Florida (9-22, 3-15) tried its best to sabotage Senior Night, taking a 32-30 lead at intermission and leading 47-44 with 9:36 remaining in the game. The St. John's players admitted that the emotions of the day, and the logistics, were a factor in their subpar performance early on.

"It was tough because there was a lot of emotion, playing in front of our families, our friends," guard Paris Horne said. "You know, it's the last game at Carnesecca [for us]. We all wanted to play good. It was just a wacky game."

"Basketball is a game of routines," forward Justin Burrell said. "It was hard to do today -- we had our families coming in. I've been having people call me all day -- my mother, my grandmother -- to ask me for directions, while we're doing all kind of things, trying to get locked into the game."

"I think it's the most challenging game to coach, Senior Day," Lavin said. "Athletes, coaches and teams are creatures of habit and routine. And Senior Day is the one game of the year where you're out of your regular routine."

But St. John's overcame it all in the end, improving to 10-0 when four or more players score in double figures. D.J. Kennedy led the way with 16 points, followed by Hardy (14), Brownlee (13) and Horne (11).

"Once the second half came, I think we settled down and just got into the flow of our style of play, and were able to impose our will," Horne said.

The past three seasons, Senior Night was the last big celebration for the St. John's men's basketball team. But this year's edition has big things ahead -- as the No. 5 seed in the Big East tournament next week, and likely a similar seed in the NCAA tournament in a couple weeks' time. It will be the Red Storm's first bid to the Big Dance since 2002.

But on this Senior Night, the St. John's players pressed pause on a remarkable journey to celebrate what they've already achieved.

Perhaps it was appropriate that Saturday night's victory didn't come easy. Because nothing has for this group.

"It was a whirlwind of emotions," Evans said. "A lot of ups and downs, kinda reflecting on what you've been through and what you accomplished throughout your years here.

"It was a moment to remember."

Kieran Darcy is an 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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