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D.J. Kennedy knows the reaction his St. John’s men’s basketball team’s shocking, 71-65 victory over No. 7 Notre Dame will draw when word spreads nationwide.
The Red Storm got lucky. The Irish had an off night. It was an aberration. And the sophomore forward, who had 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists, doesn’t care.
“I don’t feel like it’s an upset,” he said. “When we play a full 40 minutes, this is a game we can win. This is what I’ve been saying since Day 1: We can be a great team.”
St. John’s (10-4, 1-1 Big East) out-rebounded ND 40-27, out-shot the Fighting Irish and out-hustled them.
Nothing crazy, as SJU Coach Norm Roberts said afterward, happened. In fact, the Johnnies turned the ball over 18 times. The Red Storm didn’t enjoy an out-of-the-ordinary shooting game. Four players — led by Kennedy, and followed by Justin Burrell, Paris Horne and Rob Thomas — scored in double figures. They only hit five three-pointers.
“They see what can happen when we do the little things,” said the fifth-year coach, who called it the best victory in his tenure. “It was just us playing hard and not giving up.”
St. John’s allowed Big East preseason Player of the Year Luke Harangody to go off for 28 points and 14 rebounds, but the rest of the Irish did struggle. Staten Island product Kyle McAlarney, followed by Horne everywhere he went, managed just 10 points, shooting 4-of-13 from the field and 1-of-5 from the three-point line.
“Paris had him doing things he wasn’t comfortable doing,” said Burrell, who had 18 points and six rebounds.
Notre Dame (10-3, 1-1 Big East), which had won four straight entering the contest, shot just 4-of-17 from beyond the arc and 43.5 percent from the field, well below its season averages. On tape, Roberts had noticed how well Harangody passes out of the post, and how accurate the Irish can shoot when their feet are set.
So, he decided to let the 6-foot-8 junior star get his points.
“We’d rather him shooting 2’s than them shooting 3’s,” Roberts said.
St. John’s led almost the entire second half, building an eight-point lead after a Horne tip-in capped a 10-2 run. Burrell, who took only five shots in Wednesday’s 75-54 loss to Providence in the Red Storm’s Big East opener and finished with three points and four turnovers, had six points in the spurt. He questioned his own play of late, calling himself a finesse player.
When the team returned home, Roberts spoke to them as a group, addressing each player and redefining their roles after a performance the coach said his team “didn’t lay it on the line.” He told Burrell he should be aggressive and never take five shots in a game again. His teammates told him the same thing. Burrell responded with a physical showing, gong head-to-head with Harangody.
“He can be a double-double guy in this league night in and night out,” ND Coach Mike Brey said of the 6-foot-8 Burrell. “I was very impressed with their personnel. Those kids really fought hard.”
As expected, the Irish fought back from the eight-point deficit, getting to within one on three occasions. Each time, St. John’s had an answer, whether it was a defensive stop, runner in the lane by Horne (14 points) or freshman point guard Quincy Roberts, subbing for injured sophomore Malik Boothe, or made free throws. Kennedy hit the biggest ones, knocking down two with 15.1 seconds remaining to push the lead to four, 69-65.
“We never got down, that was the key,” Kennedy said. “That’s how we pulled off this win.”
Said Burrell: “Today we were really focused and played with energy for the entire game.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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