As New York City was frozen by this week's icy, whiteout blizzard, Louisville was burned by a fiery Red Storm at Madison Square Garden.
Maybe it was the 1984-85 Final Four team anniversary celebration, the new Nike uniforms or just St. John's disgust with losing, but the Johnnies (13-10, 3-8) were inspired Thursday night and pulled out a 74-55 win over the Cardinals.
St. John never abandoned the lead it held over Louisville (15-9, 6-5) for the entire stretch of the game. The Johnnies, who usually cannot get over the 28-minute hump of a contest, actually gained momentum in the latter minutes of the second half.
The hard work truly paid off as the Johnnies saw a 36-point contribution from its bench and snapped a five-game losing streak.
The Red Storm held a first-half lead for the fourth time in five games - three of those four contests were against nationally ranked squads. And, it was the first time the Johnnies sustained the lead with a full 40-minute game on all cylinders at both ends of the hardwood.
The Red Storm led by as much as 28 points at the 4:10 mark of the second stanza following two free throws by Malik Boothe . The pair at the charity stripe put the Johnnies up 67-39.
Boothe (eight points, three assists and three steals) drove the offense throughout the game, becoming the real game-changer of the matchup. His presence at the one, propelled the scoring rhythm as he set up plays for himself and teammates.
St. John's went on a 14-0 run, sparked by a basket by Justin Burrell and capped by a conventional 3-point play by Dwight Hardy (six points). The latter occurred at the 10:09 mark and surged the Red Storm forward by 20 points, 54-34. The Johnnies extended the surge to 27-5 on the two free throws by Boothe with 4:10 remaining.
St. John's leading scorer, D.J. Kennedy, kicked up the offense in the second half, despite having a relatively quiet first-half performance. Kennedy, who nicely displayed some combo-guard skills, attacked the glass and generated points at the cylinder and the line. He finished with a team-high 15 points, which was due, in large part, to 9-for-10 shooting from the charity stripe.
St. John's led 33-23 at the half.
Burrell ignited the offense in the first half with seven first-half points and four rebounds. Louisville's Samardo Samuels (18 points) scored 14 in the first half alone. However, despite Samuels' power effort early on, it was not enough to escape the damage the Johnnies wrecked in the opening seven minutes.
St. John's held a 12-0 advantage after a basket by Rob Thomas that was assisted by Boothe at the 13:39 mark of the first half.
The Cards came into the contest averaging 80 points a game, but fell 25 points short of that average in the matchup with the Johnnies. St. John's inflicted a severe pressure defense and forced 16 turnovers. Louisville, who is usually the squad that makes teams pay for offensive bloopers, found itself on the shorter side of the stick as St. John's forced and capitalized on Cardinal errors.
The Johnnies won the rebounding game (32-26), as Burrell tacked on a game- and season-high tie eight rebounds to a season-high tie of 14 points. Anthony Mason Jr. , who had seven points and was the only Johnnie to knock down a 3-pointer in the contest, grabbed seven boards.
Louisville, who got a few late baskets, shot 41.7 percent (20-for-48) from the field, while the Johnnies, with not much perimeter aid, nailed 47.3 percent (26-for-55). Though St. John's got into early foul trouble in the first half, the Queens, N.Y. squad made up for it down the stretch and finished with nearly 78 percent (21-for-27) shooting from the charity stripe.