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St. John's - Taking Back the Garden

When Steve Lavin was hired in April, one of the main goals on his agenda to bring the Red Storm back to prominence was to take back Madison Square Garden. The World’s Most Famous Arena was becoming a home for the opponent to come in and get all the attention. Now, everyone in New York City is bleeding red, especially after the latest win over a top 5 team - a 60-59 win over #4 Pittsburgh won by a last second layup by Dwight Hardy with 1.2 seconds left.

This win today gives St. John’s its sixth win against a team ranked in the top 25 this season. They are 7-1 at home while beating five teams ranked in the top 15 (2 against the Top 5) along the way. We talked about their road success, but the great teams get the job done at home, as the Red Storm did today. Even down six with under 4:00 to play, the senior filled team showed no signs of letting a team that has had great success at MSG in past years win the game.

The senior guard Dwight Hardy has been the main reason behind the Storm’s home success. In their wins at MSG this year, he is averaging 20.7 points per game. He is making his case for being the Big East Player of the Year or at least first team All-Big East. Even on an off afternoon, Hardy found a way to get to the line and hit clutch free throws when it mattered most.

With the exception of Syracuse, Steve Lavin has - in one year - beaten the teams that have dominated the Garden over the past decade. Now, the Garden is a legitimate home court advantage for a team that will be ranked this week for the first time since November 2000. Let's rank the top 5 games in the Garden this year.

5. December 21st – St. John’s 85, Northwestern 69 – This win did come in the Holiday Festival, but this was a must win for the Red Storm at the time. They were coming off of losses to Fordham and St. Bonaventure, which made fans question whether they were NCAA Tournament material. Even though Northwestern has struggled this year in the Big Ten, the Johnnies still shot 60 percent from the floor in the whole game! Have to give credit there.

4. January 16th – St. John’s 72, Notre Dame 54 – After Notre Dame blew the Red Storm out of South Bend a week earlier, Lavin’s crew got their revenge by holding the Irish to just 3-15 from beyond the arc. The crowd started chanting "Let’s Go Irish" in the second half, but as the opposition got loud, D.J. Kennedy and Dwight Hardy hit big shots to seal the upset against the number eleventh (or ninth, depending on the poll) ranked team in the country at the time.

3. January 30th – St. John’s 93, Duke 78 – The Red Storm fans sold out the Garden for the first time since 2003 and they played with great intensity for forty minutes. The Red Storm held the sharp shooting Blue Devils to just nineteen percent from three point range. Hardy had his first coming out party with 26 points and senior center Sean Evans got involved in the offense, going 5-5 from the floor. This made the national media realize this Red Storm team was for real, especially after losing five of their last six coming into the game by beating the 3rd ranked team in America.

2. January 3rd – St. John’s 61, Georgetown 58 – In the third conference game of the year, Steve Lavin won his Big East home opener in dramatic fashion. Senior forward Justin Brownlee tipped in the game winning basket with ten seconds left to clinch the win over the thirteenth ranked Hoyas. They are one of the few teams to shut down Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, and Jason Clark in a single game, holding them to twenty points combined. With that win, the Red Storm went to 3-0 in the league, which is why it ranks above the Duke win.

1. February 19th – St. John’s 60, Pittsburgh 59 – The game yesterday was an absolute thriller over a team that has owned the Garden in the postseason the last few years. Despite Ashton Gibbs scoring 26 for number 4 Pitt, the Johnnies didn’t give up. Senior forward D.J Kennedy played great in the final five minutes of the game and Hardy had the magical layup to seal the upset. Even when free throws weren’t going in, Paris Horne got inside that physical defense and somehow got the offensive rebound in the final mute. Plus, they handed Pitt their first road loss of the season. When you beat the best of the best in your conference, then the game deserves to be number one on the list.

The Johnnies are averaging 72.3 points per game this year at home and are bringing back the fans. As the wins increase, the more red shirts will be in the Garden. That is why this St. John’s team has a legitimate chance to win the Big East Conference Tournament in a few weeks!