The St. John’s basketball had one last crushing loss left in its season.
It was like the grand finale for the St. John’s basketball team.
The Johnnies led Villanova by 17 in the second half of the Big East Tournament Quarterfinals.
Dreams were becoming a reality. Could they really run the table? Its first berth in the tournament’s semifinals since 2000 was 15:30 away.
Then foul trouble hit.
Well, let’s take one step back.
Posh Alexander gave every single Wildcat guard fits in the first half but picked up his second foul in the final seconds of the first half on a very questionable blocking foul.
“It was a charge. I mean, it was a charge. That’s what it was,” a deflated Mike Anderson said after the game.
It was that call, coupled with Alexander picking up his third foul shortly after the Johnnies took its largest lead of the game, that flipped the momentum.
Villanova suddenly started to hit shots because the Red Storm pressure had lessened. St. John’s started throwing the ball all over the court without its floor general out there.
“I thought that was really big,” Jay Wright explained of the foul trouble the Red Storm point guard found himself in.
It was a 24-6 Wildcat run that put the crown jewel of the conference up by as many as four points in the final stages of the second half.
But St. John’s wouldn’t go quietly.
Stef Smith put the Johnnies back on top with a traditional 3-point play with 2:08 to go but those were the final points of the game for St. John’s.
Julian Champagnie, who was spectacular in the game, air-balled an open corner 3-pointer with 28.3 seconds left that would have put the Red Storm up by four, but the Johnnies were a defensive stop away from winning.
And St. John’s got the stop it needed.
But it could not corral the rebound which went to Jermaine Samuels, who was stripped by Champagnie, as the ball bounced into the hands of Brandon Slater, who was fouled on the putback attempt by Champagnie.
Slater made both free throws and Smith’s half-court heave was off.
Villanova wins, 66-65.
St. John’s saved its most crushing and depressing loss of the season for last.
“I thought our guys left their heart, guts and everything on the floor. And just came up a little short,” Anderson said.
“It’s a really emotional locker room there.”
It was an encapsulation of what this season was, and what it could have been.
St. John’s basketball season full of ‘what-ifs?’
“You saw a team that probably could and should have been [an NCAA Tournament team],” Anderson said next to a dejected Smith and emotional Champagnie.
St. John’s lost 11-of-16 games decided by single digits this season, nine of which came in Big East play.
This team had much more talent and ability than what it’s record shows.
What if Julian Champagnie played against Pittsburgh?
What if Aaron Wheeler performed as well as he did in Big East play in the non-conference?
What if St. John’s was able to kill off 4.8 seconds in Storrs?
What if Posh Alexander was not injured for home games against Villanova and UConn?
What if the Johnnies held on to its 17-point lead on Thursday night?
The list seems endless.
An NIT bid might await St. John’s on Sunday but regardless of what happens going forward this season will still be viewed as a massive disappointment.