NY Daily News
It seemed strangely familiar, seeing all those empty seats at the Garden.
Other than family and friends, there wasn't much interest in watching Virginia Tech defeat St. John's, 54-48, Saturday in the final of the 70th annual Holiday Festival....
St. John's used to own this tournament, winning 14 championships in 42 appearances. The Johnnies used to be a national power. But they played ugly basketball in this edition, missing their first 13 shots of the second half, then shooting blanks for another five-minute stretch. Combine that with 20 turnovers and it's a recipe for disaster....
This is the fourth year of the Roberts era. Give Roberts a pass for the first two seasons, because he inherited a mess. But the Red Storm looks like it is still rebuilding, trying to reestablish some bedrock in its quest to become a postseason team - and that's not good.
St. John's is the premier program in this city. But the Red Storm is 6-5 and has not played a big-time schedule.
The Johnnies can't afford to be average and the Garden can't afford for them to be hit or miss. Just 10 days ago, Duke and Pitt played in this arena before a loud, sellout crowd in one of most exciting games of the young season. But there was no energy in the building this weekend. The Garden has to do something to recreate holiday magic if the Johnnies aren't going to be a huge drawing card and it may be time to consider turning the Holiday Festival into a one-day showcase and to invite brand-name teams like North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and UCLA.
Yes, this St. John's team has a fragile dynamic and point guard Eugene Lawrence is the only scholarship senior. And yes, Roberts is a decent man who does not want to rip his young players to the media for fear of damaging them psychologically. That's admirable. But it's time for everyone involved to look in the mirror and see what the frustrated crowd of 6,818 witnessed.
But if some serious doubt isn't creeping into Roberts' mind, and the heads of his young players, then St. John's will be in worse trouble than a Wall Street investor with a portfolio of mortgages gone bad.
Last night, the Red Storm went bust on offense in a 54-48 loss to Virginia Tech in the championship game of the Aeropostale Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
They began the second half without scoring a point for the first 10:48, missing their first 13 shots. They missed 38 of 53 shots (28 percent). They had more turnovers (20) than baskets (15).
The Red Storm (6-5) had a chance to win only because Virginia Tech (8-5) was almost as inept on offense. The Hokies, who also had seven freshmen playing in the Garden for the first time, had more turnovers (20) than baskets (18), too....
This was once the premier holiday college basketball tournament in America. North Carolina, Kentucky and UCLA all have played here. But the proliferation of tournaments and the decline of St. John's, which essentially gets to pick the field, have diminished the Holiday Festival....
Only after the formal postgame interview session did Roberts express some emotion that such a loss irked him. It might have been the most hopeful sign of the day for the future of St. John's.
"I'm not OK with any loss," Roberts said. "I want to win every game. But if we win a game, it's not like we've arrived. And if we lose a game, it's not like all is lost."
All is not lost. But it will be if the Red Storm doesn't grow up fast.