St. John’s 91-71 win over No. 10 Creighton last Sunday was not only notable because it was a blowout victory against one of the best teams in the nation.
It was the first time since 1987 that St. John’s beat a top-10 team on campus, when they defeated No. 9 Pittsburgh. That was back when the Redmen played at Alumni Hall and were coached by Lou Carnesecca.
He was at the game last Sunday, in the arena that is now named for him.
The 4,260 fans were given T-shirts as part of a “whiteout.” And the fans went crazy as the Johnnies nailed 14 three-pointers, including seven from Greg Williams Jr.
“I loved it,” Williams said. “The fans came through and had Carnesecca jumping. They are the sixth man and they helped us out today.”
Broadcasting the game on Fox Sports 1, Len Elmore wondered aloud if the tight confines of the arena, with its capacity of 5,602, could have a negative impact on opponents.
Madison Square Garden seats about four times as many fans and St. John’s athletic director Mike Cragg has talked before about playing more games at the Mecca of basketball instead of on campus.
St. John’s is 10-2 at Carnesecca this season, with both losses coming by two points. Granted, many of the wins were against weaker opponents. But MSG is not necessarily drawing fans in droves.
Of course Villanova is a regular opponent at MSG. Meetings with Seton Hall bring fans of the Red Storm and Pirates alike, though even the rival from New Jersey played at Carnesecca five times between 2008 and 2015. And Connecticut should be a near sellout when the Huskies return to the Big East.
But a matchup with DePaul drew fewer than 6,700 fans to the Garden. A meeting with Georgetown, coached by old rival and Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, saw 8,100 fans come out.
Some fans have competing theories on how often the team should play at the Garden. One side says there should be more games at MSG only when St. John’s is among the sport’s best again or playing a top team. Others believe that the campus facilities are inferior compared to conference opponents and that a way to stop acting small-time is with more games at MSG.
There’s an old adage about the best home court advantage being the one where the best players are and that’s true.
But while nothing beats a jam-packed MSG, Carnesecca Arena should be appreciated and not frowned upon.
Williams didn’t play much under previous coach Chris Mullin — an average of 8.4 minutes per game — but has seen his game develop under Mike Anderson, who is spreading around the playing time.
“He’s been making shots and he’s in the starting lineup for a reason,” Anderson said after the win. “Teams have to honor him. Teams are backing off him and he’s playing with a lot more confidence.”
Williams gave his Red Storm teammates credit for the seven three-pointers.
“My teammates were just finding me,” the guard said. “When we go and play for each other, play together, things like that can happen. When you find a hot hand it carries through.”