The St. John's Red Storm men's basketball team pulled off an upset this past Wednesday evening, defeating West Virginia at Madison Square Garden, 78 - 62. OK, it wasn't a major upset like knocking off Duke or Kentucky. But it was a big win. West Virginia was 5 - 2 in the Big East and 15 - 5 overall. After routing Providence in their Big East Conference opener, the Storm proceded to lose 6 of their next 7 games. Their conference record now stands at 3 - 6, 9 - 11 overall. It's about to be 9 - 12 since they travel to Duke today.
The Johnnies were led by Moe Harkless with 23 points and 13 rebounds, D'Angelo Harrison with 19 points, Phil Greene with 11 points and 8 assists, Amir Garrett with 11 points and 7 rebounds and Sir'Dominic Pointer had 8 points. Off the bench, juco transfer God's Gift Achiuwa got 7 rebounds and junior Malik Stith, the only holdover from last year's team, had 4 points. The starting five consisted entirely of freshman. Up until the West Virginia game, Achiuwa had been starting almost all of the games. According to the SJU website, the last time St. John's started 5 freshman was in the 1927-28 season, a team known at SJ as the "Wonder Five". Freshmen were inelible to play varsity sports from the early 1950's up to 1972.
In stark contrast, last year's Red Storm was more likely to start 5 seniors. In coach Steve Lavin's debut season, the team won 21 games and lost 9. While they made it to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002, they were eliminated by Gonzaga University in the first round. No member of the 2010-2011 team got drafted by an NBA team. Coach Lavin is still recovering from prostate cancer surgery so this year's Storm has been led by assistant Mike Dunlap. Lavin attempted to coach the team early in the season but was unable to continue.
St. John's has been playing only 7 players all year so depth has been a problem in addition to inexperience. Size has also been a problem. Harkless, from Queens, NY is 6'8" as is Achiuwa, a Nigerian. Garrett, 6'6" is from L.A and, in adition to basketball, has been signed as a pitcher by the Cincinnati Reds. A lefty, he throws over 95 mph. Detroit product Pointer stands 6'5". Harrison from Texas is 6'3" and Phil Greene from Chicago is 6'2". Stith from Hempstead, LI is 5'11". Harkless set a record in the Big East opener against Providence when he scored 32 points. The previous record for a freshman in a Big East debut had been 30 points by Alan Iverson and Troy Murphy.
The rest of the SJU season includes a home game against UCLA and 9 more conference games, 5 on the road. To be realistic, the team's chances of making the NCAA tournament are slim. With the development of their freshman, next year should be a lot better. Hopefully, the program under Lavin will soon be able to recapture the success enjoyed under Basketball Hall of Fame Coach Lou Carnesecca. A potential problem is that their best player, Harkless, will almost surely leave for the NBA after his sophomore season. Hope he doesn't go sooner.