Once upon a time the St. John’s basketball season was one that captivated New York City. When the Knicks were struggling, MSG always had the Johnnies to bring excitement.
Throughout the 1980s and into the early 2000s, the St. John’s basketball program was considered elite. Led by players such as current coach Chris Mullin, Walter Berry, Mark Jackson, Jayson Williams, Ron Artest (otherwise known as Metta World Peace), Bootsy Thornton and Marcus Hatten, the Red Storm always gave their fans something to look forward to come November.
However, recent years have seen a steep decline in what was once a basketball haven. From 1979-2004, the St. John’s basketball program made the postseason 20 times (15 being NCAA Tournament appearances). In those 20 appearances, they made one final four and won two postseason NIT championships.
Throughout this season, I will be posting favorite memories of seasons past in a hope to get fans excited and raise expectations for the 2017-18 season. Remembering that at one time the Johnnies were a major player in the college basketball scene might trigger interest in paying attention to the current team.
On Saturday, Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski won his 1,000th game as head coach. My first Red Storm memory takes us back to the 1999-2000 season. On February 26, 2000 the Blue Devils hosted the Johnnies in the second year of a home and home matchup.
On January 24, 1999 the No. 2-ranked Duke Blue Devils defeated the No. 8-ranked Red Storm 92-88 in overtime at Madison Square Garden.
Entering the matchup that February day, the Blue Devils were ranked No. 3 in the nation. The Red Storm were unranked, but they were 19-6 at the time of the contest and coming off big wins earlier in the week against No. 9 Syracuse and No. 18 Connecticut.
The Red Storm took a one-point lead into the half and both teams exchanged punches in the second half. Trailing 81-79, Nate James three-pointer with 44 seconds left gave the Blue Devils a one-point lead.
St. John’s had more than just beating the No. 3-ranked team to overcome. Cameron Indoor Stadium was a sauna and Duke had devoured 64 consecutive non-conference opponents at home. Needing a basket to go ahead, the Red Storm went to senior Bootsy Thornton, who the year before led both teams with 40 points in the loss at MSG. Thornton buried an 11-foot jumper from the right side to give St. John’s a 83-82 lead with 11 seconds left.
Following a timeout with five seconds showing, the Blue Devils’ Chris Carrawell missed an awkward shot from about 17 feet. When the buzzer sounded the Red Storm had defeated the No. 3-ranked team in the nation. The Red Storm committed only 11 and outrebounded the taller Blue Devils 38-32, 14-8 on the offensive end.
Who knows what big wins the Red Storm will have this season, but beating the Blue Devils in Durham was a memory I will never forget.