But after his team upset No. 20 Kentucky last Thursday, 62-61, and then went down swinging against fourth-ranked Kansas, 82-74, the head coach knew exactly what this mostly inexperienced group will bring to the table in the 2000-2001 season: heart, determination and the ability to play with and beat the best teams in the country.
"I see a group of guys that compete," said a smiling Jarvis after his team pushed the Kansas Jayhawks to the brink Friday night. "I see a team that has unbelievable potential. [Kansas is] a great team and they are to be complimented. We had a chance to win and I think that was exhilarating."
St. John's made a second half run after falling behind by as much as 13 to pull within two, 75-73, with 1:48 remaining, but a missed three by freshman point guard Omar Cook and clutch free throw shooting down the stretch by Kansas sealed the deal, foiling a valiant comeback by the Red Storm.
A day after rallying from a four-point deficit to win with 22.6 seconds remaining against Kentucky, St. John's seemed to still be flying high in the early going against the Jayhawks, jumping out to a quick six-point lead, 10-4, when Cook nailed a three at 16:09 of the first half. An Anthony Glover free throw extended the lead to seven, but Kansas, which defeated UCLA the day before, would not stay quiet for long.
After Donald Emanuel hit a three at 13:06 to make the score 13-8, the Jayhawks rolled off 12 straight points. During the stretch the St. John's offense simply shut down while the high-flying team from the Midwest could not miss.
Kansas, however, could not put St. John's away early. With a 10-point lead following two free throws by tournament MVP Kenny Gregory at 4:02, St. John's battled on even terms down the stretch of the first half, with Glover scoring eight of the team's final 10 points to go into the break down eight, 45-37.
Kansas continued to hold the edge in the second half, jumping out to a 13-point cushion when Nick Collison's baseline jumper rattled home, making the score 53-40 at 16:48.
But slowly down the stretch, St. John's began creeping back. Freshmen Willie Shaw and Kyle Cuffe, along with Cook, Glover and transfer Sharif Fordham were on the floor most of the second half, as the Red Strom continued to chip away at the Jayhawks' lead.
A three by Shaw at 9:23 and two more baskets at 6:46 and 6:08 brought the team to within seven, 69-62. The Red Storm shook off a three-point play by Collison to score seven straight points, including a gorgeous three-point play by Cuffe, who slammed home Glover's missed dunk and converted the foul shot.
The Red Storm got within two twice in the final minutes, but could not catch Kansas despite two quality chances, with Glover missing a short jumper to tie and Cook a three to put St. John's ahead. Drew Gooden hit five three throws down the stretch to help Kansas hold on and win.
"These guys play with so much heart and so much determination," Jarvis said. "I'm proud and I'm glad. Our guys came to play. This was a hell of a tournament."
Cook finished the game 6-for-20 from the field and 4-for-16 from three for 17 points. He added six assists, six steals, four rebounds and four turnovers - all in the first half. Glover had a team-high 19 points and seven rebounds, while Cuffe added 16 points and seven boards. Shaw was the only other member of the Red Storm in double figures with 13.
While the team could not pull off the upset against Kansas, the Red Storm did manage a miracle finish against Kentucky, as Glover converted a three-point play with 5 seconds left in regulation to give St. John's a 62-61 win the day before.
In Cook's collegiate debut, the freshman out of Christ the King in Middle Village torched the Wildcats for 18 points and five assists. Glover added 21 points and six boards to the cause.
Unlike Kansas, the Wildcats could never establish dominance over the younger, quicker St. John's team, which never led in the second half until Glover's foul shot in the final seconds.
St. John's, now 1-1 on the year, will play its next game Saturday against Stony Brook at Alumni Hall. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. and the game will be televised on WLNY 55.
Notes: Cook was the only Red Storm member named to the Coaches vs. Cancer IKON Classic all-tournament team, along with Gooden and Gregory from Kansas, Earl Watson from UCLA and Kentucky's Keith Bogans.
St. John's went into the tournament unranked, but emerged as the No. 24 team in the nation in Monday's Associated Press poll.
As a team St. John's shot just 38 percent from the field against Kansas and 41.4 percent against Kentucky. The Red Storm was just 12-for-44 from behind the arc and just 22-for-47 from the charity stripe.
Senior starter Reggie Jessie, a Queensbridge native, aggravated his heel, first injured in the team's exhibition against Double Pump, in the second half against Kansas. He did not return and finished the game with just four points. Jessie had nine points against Kentucky.
©2000 Community News Group
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