The Red Storm was beating Creighton at halftime of their Big East quarterfinal matchup in March when the rest of the season was canceled due to the pandemic.
Now college basketball has returned, even if the fans have not.
“I am sure if the fans were here they would have willed us maybe 10 more points, who knows,” head coach Mike Anderson said after a 76-75 opening night win over St. Peter’s at Carnesecca Arena on Nov. 25.
Cardboard cutouts are in the stands and crowd noise is filtered into the arena. Bleachers are pushed back and team benches are on the opposite side of the court than usual, with three rows for players, coaches and staff to stay distant.
“We have got to understand that we have to create our own energy whether it be here, on the road, or at Mohegan Sun Arena, and I think that is going to be the lesson,” Anderson said.
The Red Storm defeated La Salle at Carnesecca Arena and then edged out Boston College at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut Monday.
“It was a different atmosphere,” said junior forward Marcus Earlington after the La Salle game. “We are used to playing with fans and having that advantage. So it was a first time for everybody. I think we got comfortable, we got the jitters out and then it came down to hooping and that’s something we do every day.”
But for all the early-season positives including the clutch shooting of Vince Cole and the play of new guard Posh Alexander, Covid looms over everything.
A matchup with Texas Tech was canceled with St. John’s deciding not to travel to Lubbock.
“The decisions made by St. John’s since the outset of the pandemic have resulted in creating one of the safest and healthiest college environments in the country this past fall,” said athletic director Mike Cragg. “Our student-athletes and staff remain excited and we will continue forward.”
The Red Storm schedule has been impacted by positive Covid tests from other programs, however.
Sacred Heart and Fordham were slated to play St. John’s at Carnesecca Arena in early December but both games were canceled because those programs are in a coronavirus-related pause.
St. John’s released its schedule in late November, with six nonconference games and four Big East contests through Dec. 20.
The remainder of the conference schedule, with 20 games against league opponents, will be released at a later time.
All the Red Storm can do is play the games on their schedule. Julian Champagnie scored 29 points in the win over BC. Cole is averaging 16 points, Alexander 14. Returning forward Greg Williams Jr. is averaging 12 per game and newcomer Isaih Moore is averaging 9.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
After the close win over BC, in which the Johnnies nearly squandered a 20-point lead, Anderson said it might not have been a game they would have won last season.
“I think that speaks volumes to the core guys we have that came back and are leading this team and of course with the new talent that we have in place,” he said. “We are just trying to become the best team that we can be and I am excited.”