Is it time for Garden magic?

Nate Shron

Sometimes, when St. John’s plays a ranked opponent in Madison Square Garden, miraculous results occur.

Players tend to feed off the big-fight feel opponents bring with them to the World’s Most Famous Arena. The larger-than-normal crowds that attend these games realize what an upset might mean for St. John’s NCAA Tournament hopes down the line. Mix those two elements together with the Garden’s mystique... could St. John's be on the verge of something great in front of the home crowd in the World's Most Famous Arena?

St. John’s will have a chance to create more Garden memories Saturday when it welcomes No. 8 Villanova to Broadway in what is the first Big East home game for the Johnnies this season. The Red Storm are coming off that brutal loss to Georgetown last week in the nation’s capital and are facing questions about their talent, cohesion, and intensity.

What better way to erase that memory than with an upset of a team that has become the measuring stick in the new Big East?

The spectacle surrounding these big matchups in New York City brings a sense of urgency to the Johnnies. No one wants to be embarrassed in front of a large crowd, particularly one which will probably have more Villanova fans in the seats.

Yes, St. John’s has played some clunkers in these situations. But pessimistic St. John’s fan should be reminded about occasions when the team won a game (or least played a competitive contest) against a ranked opponent inside the Garden seemingly out of nowhere. There’s probably no better recent example of that than in 2011 against Duke.

St. John’s came into that game having played six of their last seven games against ranked opponents. That stretch provided some thrills at the Garden as the Johnnies beat Georgetown and Notre Dame, but they also lost to the Irish, Syracuse, Louisville, and the Hoyas. The win against No. 3 Duke, however, spurred St. John’s to a great finish in the regular season and into the NCAA Tournament.

The Johnnies dominated the game from the start as Duke couldn’t find their stroke from beyond the arc. If you were watching that game in the stands or on TV, it’s safe to say we were all waiting for the Blue Devils to make a big run in the second half. It never happened.

St. John’s continued to make a habit of beating ranked teams inside the Garden the rest of the season. Two weeks after the Duke win, the Johnnies beat No. 9 UConn 89-72, a particularly satisfying win considering Huskies fan travel from Connecticut en masse for Garden games. And who could forget the 60-59 win over No. 4 Pittsburgh almost two weeks later? Garden magic was made that day.

Outside of hosting the Super Bowl, this a sleepy time of the year for the rest of the New York sports scene.

Baseball spring training is still five weeks away.

The Knick and Nets are playing better lately, but are still in the bottom of the food chain in the awful Eastern Conference of the NBA.

The Rangers are fighting for relevancy.

St. John’s has an opportunity to seize the back pages for themselves if they can get on a roll. New York always supports a winner and they’ve done so with St. John’s in the past. A little Garden magic Saturday against Villanova could go a long way.

The Johnnies will need some if they want to make the NCAA Tournament.

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