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St. John’s can let Saturday’s controversial ending galvanize them or break them

It’s a matter of perspective

Creighton Bluejays center Ryan Kalkbrenner (11) defends a final shot attempt from St. John’s Red Storm guard Daniss Jenkins (5) in the second half at CHI Health Center Omaha. Mandatory Credit: Steven Branscombe Steven Branscombe/USA TODAY Sports

In the postgame press conference following yesterday’s controversial loss to Creighton, head coach Rick Pitino — always one to indulge in histrionics — described his feelings about defeat:

“When we lose, I f—king hate the world... I don’t believe in those valiant efforts on the road. I feel like I want to kill myself, jump into the cold and die of frostbite.”

No matter how many moral victories one can construct, losing always sucks. But considering how yesterday’s game concluded in such a contentious manner, it is important for St. John’s to not allow that game to spoil their burgeoning confidence.

The recent history between St. John’s and Creighton has been lopsided. Before Saturday, the Red Storm lost 15 of the 20 meetings against Creighton since they joined the conference in 2013, including seven of their last eight meetings dating back to Mike Anderson’s first season in 2019-20. Of those seven losses, only one was decided by single digits, which was at home.

Yesterday, this St. John’s team did something that many others before them failed to do: compete with Creighton on the road. The Bluejays were 7 1⁄2 point favorites entering Saturday afternoon’s game, yet St. John’s overcame an ugly start and countered the Bluejays throughout the game. Creighton required a pair of late free throws to survive a game resembling an old-school Big East battle.

This St. John’s team has separated itself from its predecessors in other ways. They had their best five-game start to conference play since the 2000-2001 season, beaten Villanova on their campus for the first time since 1993, decisively took down teams coached by Thad Matta and Sean Miller, and even outpaced a fringe top-25 team in Utah when they were still figuring out their identity. There are plenty of reasons to be confident that St. John’s can maintain their upward trajectory.

That belief in their ability to compete with the best is mandatory; a gauntlet of five straight Quad 1 games spanning the next three weeks await St. John’s, starting with a Tuesday night road game against Seton Hall, who haven’t lost to the Red Storm at home since 2014. This brutal stretch of games could place St. John’s in a precarious position. An awful streak of games could knock them back on the bubble. If they can at least tread water, they could place themselves in an almost-secure position in the field of 68 before their conference schedule softens up.

There is no time to dwell on what might have been. With a strong performance in this upcoming set of games, St. John’s can turn the late proceedings of Saturday’s loss into a mere footnote in the 2023-24 season.