No matter the stress facing a college sports team or its fans as the playoffs creep closer, Senior Day is always a thrilling moment for everyone involved.
The graduating members of the team are the subjects of a ceremony honoring their achievements while graduating fans take in the excitement of going to their school’s game one more time.
As a member of the Class of 2013, going to that final regular season St. John’s men’s basketball game of the year will always be a memory I’ll relive in my mind, but luckily for this year’s Red Storm squad, there will be some postseason basketball to play if they’re lucky.
A loss to lowly DePaul at Madison Square Garden on Senior Day would have trashed any chance St. John’s had at qualifying for the NCAA Tournament, barring a shocking Big East Tournament victory, but the Johnnies took care of business on Sunday, downing the Blue Demons 72-64.
Contrary to the belief of casual college hoops fans, the win didn’t do much for the Red Storm’s tournament chances either, as a victory over the worst team in the Big East isn’t exactly a resume-building win like a win over a ranked opponent is.
However, the Johnnies came out firing on Sunday as if they were playing Florida, the top-ranked team in the nation.
Led by St. John’s star guard D’Angelo Harrison and senior center Orlando Sanchez, the Red Storm shot a blistering 61 percent in the first half while holding DePaul to just 31 percent.
St. John’s also nailed four-of-eight three-point attempts and maintained a 33-21 lead at halftime.
All of a sudden, it was DePaul that came out looking like a top-tier offense in the second half, as the Blue Demons went on an 18-4 run to cut the lead to just six midway through the stanza.
A three-pointer for DePaul’s R.J. Currington slashed St. John’s’ lead to just three points with four minutes left, but a block by Red Storm forward Sir’Dominic Pointer on DePaul’s next possession led to two free throws and a momentum swing in favor of St. John’s.
Harrison, who sits third in the Big East in scoring with 17.5 points-per-game, added another great performance to an already outstanding breakout season. The potential first-team All-Big East selection recorded his second-career double-double, scoring a game-high 25 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, in addition to four assists and one steal.Rebounding was the name of the game for other St. John’s ballers as well, as center Chris Obekpa, one of the nation’s best shot blockers, brought down 11 rebounds while Sanchez snared eight of his own.
A whirlwind of emotions is an accurate way to describe any athlete’s final season with his college team, but not many players have had a senior year similar to Sanchez’s.
After growing up in extreme poverty in the Dominican Republic, Sanchez eventually made his way onto the country’s national team. His three minutes of game action with the squad in 2010 caused an eligibility conflict with the NCAA last year, but he was given the ability to play one season of college ball last February.
Sanchez didn’t become the star that some expected him to be, instead transforming into a solid role player who possesses the ability to play solid defense and perform in the clutch on offense.
The past year has been eventful for Sanchez off the court, too. The senior got married in 2013 and his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, a daughter, on Feb. 21, causing him to miss one game.
Sanchez has played like a man determined to make the NCAA Tournament as of late, and St. John’s as a whole will need to match his intensity in the coming weeks.
The Red Storm end the regular season with a road game against Marquette on Sunday before the Big East Tournament begins next week, with the winner of the tournament earning an automatic bid to the NCAA’s.
The winner of Sunday’s game will be the five-seed in the tournament and play against the four-seed at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, while the loser will be the six-seed, setting up a date with the three-seed at 9:30 p.m. that night.