One night at St. John’s – while four years in the making – was really only the beginning.
The Red Storm said goodbye to 10 seniors at their final home game of the season against South Florida at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday, March 5.
Senior night is a commemoration of four years together, but for these seniors, it was more than a culmination, it was just a start. The ‘Thank you seniors’ chant that filled the arena during the pregame ceremony showed the revival St. John’s basketball has seen – and will hopefully continue – in the first year under Coach Steve Lavin.
Coming into this season, these seniors were just 44-53 and had lost more than two-thirds of their conference games (17-37). But this season they are 20-10, 12-6 in the Big East. They beat Marquette, Duke, Pitt, Villanova and West Virginia for the first time. They became the first ranked St. John’s team and defeated a ranked opponent on the road for the first time in over a decade.
“The first three years it was rough for us and [the fans] 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 [the fans] deserve,” said senior Malik Boothe.
These seniors have helped rejuvenate St. John’s basketball; winning 20 games in the regular season for the first time since the 1999-2000 season and will hear their name called on selection Sunday after a nine-year absence.
While this was the last time this group will play in front of their home fans, it was also their first step to becoming a team those fans will remember long after they left.
Lines hundreds deep stood waiting to enter the arena making this game an event. And though Carnesecca didn’t lose power, there was a “blackout.”
The university provided black t-shirts for all the fans to match the Johnnies’ black jerseys and the coaches’ black Nikes. The seniors were winless in five games in the black jerseys, but the 10 seniors – led by Justin Burrell – told the coach they wanted to go out in their final home game wearing them.
“They’re awesome,” said Burrell.
In years past when a St. John’s game was an event, the opponent usually provided the top billing, but now the fans came to experience these seniors’ final game and show their thanks for reviving a struggling team.
“Who knows if we wouldn’t have had such a great season how our senior night would turn out, how many people would come, if it would even have the same emotion, it might just be another game,” said senior forward Sean Evans prior to the game. “But knowing these seniors stuck together through the thick and the thin and we overcame a lot of things is going to make this senior night even more special than it already would be.”
The evening went from questioning whether the game would be a sell out to needing extra entrances for all the fans waiting for the doors to open at 7 p.m.
“This has been some of the best moments of my life, possibly the best thing that’s ever happened to me is being a part of this program,” said senior Burrell, who couldn’t fight back tears when he was introduced during the pregame ceremonies. “St. John’s means the world to me. I love this school with all my heart.”
With the lead secure and time running down in the victory over South Florida, Lavin replaced the seniors one by one so they could enjoy one last ovation from the sold-out crowd.
“It was touching for us,” said Boothe.
The Johnnies ended the regular season tied for third in the Big East, their highest finish since 2002.
And that is when the new season for the Johnnies begins, and Evans knows that.
“We celebrate now, but we have a lot more ahead of us.”