We are the defending Big East champions. We are fresh off of a West region two-seed. We are among the nation’s elite.
That’s what St. John’s fans were saying to each other eleven years ago. A disappointing second-round loss the previous March was just a bad game. A bad match up. A bad circumstance. The wrong place at the wrong time. We were supposed to go farther – play more games. It didn’t happen. Just one of those nights. It wasn’t that we were out-talented or out-classed. We weren’t underdogs. Far from it. That isn’t what the 1999-00 Red Storm was all about.
Do you remember who the Johnnies fell to that night? Did the lean years between then and now blur all memory? It was the Gonzaga Bulldogs. A senior-laden team led by names from the past like Erick Barkley, Marvis “Bootsy” Thornton, and Lavor Postell played its last game that night in Tucson. Disappointing, yes. World-ending, no. We’d be back in full force in a few months with a younger squad personified by its tremendous upside. That’s how these elite programs work. Sounds familiar. Funny how things have changed in just over a decade, huh?
St. John’s (2) lost to Gonzaga (10), 82-76, in the 2000 NCAA Round of 32.
No, that wasn’t the best game I was ever at. In fact, my seven year-old self cried that day just over 2,000 miles away.
Early that summer, it was announced that the Johnnies would participate in the upcoming November’s Coaches vs. Cancer four-team tournament at Madison Square Garden. It has always been a tournament consisting of talented teams creating a preseason buzz. The first semifinal of the doubleheader wasn’t exactly a warm-up. Roy Williams’ Kansas Jayhawks took on the UCLA Bruins – fittingly enough, coached by Steve Lavin. Kirk Heinrich, Nick Collison, and Drew Gooden outlasted Jason Kapono and Earl Watson a high-scoring duel. How about that for professional talent? But that’s besides the point.
The second game that night on November 9, 2000 was between the Red Storm and the Kentucky Wildcats, who were ranked 12th in the preseason AP poll. It was the first chance for the faithful to see a whole new group led by sophomore Anthony Glover and freshmen Omar Cook, Willie Shaw, and Kyle Cuffe. Eleven years removed and that I was only eight at the time inhibits any memory of details of minutes 1-39 of that game. What transpired in the final seconds is what I will remember forever.
St. John’s vs. Kentucky ticket stub.
Trailing by two with six seconds remaining, Cook inbounded a back door bounce pass to Anthony Glover. In a single motion, Anthony laid it up and in with his right hand, while drawing a foul – possibly a favorable call made by one of the three officials working the game that night, which included Jim Burr and Tim Higgins. The Garden shook. I had never seen that place in that way. I don’t think I’d seen any place in that way. Glover made the free-throw and St. John’s held on for the 62-61 win.
St. John’s lost to Kansas in the final the next night and experienced a roller-coaster 14-15 (8-8) 2000-01 season.
What made me recall this particular game isn’t its upcoming 11th anniversary. It isn’t that I wanted St. John’s fans to struggle remembering Kyle Cuffe. Aside from it being one of two times I’ve ever seen the Garden truly rock after a Johnnies win (the other being this past February vs. Pittsburgh), I chose to recall it because it has more or less become a game of irony. We’ve almost found ourselves in the exact spot we were eleven years ago. We’ve all gotten older. The detailed memories of that semifinal have gotten blurrier. But, with the Johnnies in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament (now the 2K Sports Classic) again this November, here we are again. This Gonzaga loss has been shrugged off. There’s new fish to be fried. The seniors are out and the freshmen are in. The opponent will be a talented Arizona squad. Steve Lavin will be in the building (and, assuredly, Mike Jarvis won’t). Maybe lighting can be caught in a bottle again.
Or maybe the game will just be decided by Burr or Higgins.
What is the most memorable St. John’s game for which you were in attendance? Leave a comment by clicking the bubble above.
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