St. John’s basketball knew it belonged in NCAA Tournament

St. John's basketball wing Jayla Everett (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball wing Jayla Everett (Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports) /

The St. John’s basketball team always knew it belonged in the NCAA Tournament. 

“It was awful,” St. John’s basketball head coach Joe Tartamella said as his team’s NCAA Tournament hopes were unknown for eight days.

The Red Storm fell against Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament on Saturday, March 4 and would not know its fate until Sunday, March 12.

“It’s tough. You’re yelling at teams that you don’t even coach or know anyone on their team,” Tartamella joked.

But it worked for the Red Storm.

The Johnnies were given an 11-seed, its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016, and will play in the First Four against Purdue on Thursday night in Columbus as No. 6 seed North Carolina awaits the winner.

“It’s a bit agonizing, but at the end of the day, you have to feel confident about what you did throughout the year, which we felt pretty good.”

St. John’s certainly felt good about its season changing win on the road against then No. 4 UConn in late February.

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The win snapped a two game losing streak against Villanova and Marquette, games the Johnnies felt like it needed to have in order to get back into the tournament picture.

“We didn’t have a bad loss,” Tartamella explained.

And it’s true.

St. John’s had a NET ranking of 55 and its two “worst” losses of the season came against rival Seton Hall, which ended the season with a WNIT berth and NET of 64.

But the win against Connecticut was the difference in playing in the NCAA Tournament or the WNIT.

“We reflected on it that night,” St. John’s forward Danielle Patterson said when asked if the reality sunk in of beating a blue-blood on the road that allowed the Johnnies to continue to play for a National Championship.

“Once we beat them we moved onto the next game and we knew we had to continue to take care of business.”

The Red Storm did just that — and avoided the dreaded bad loss in the process — with victories over Georgetown and Providence.

“[UConn] was a huge game for us, we all know that, but that’s they way we try to attack every single game. Win, lose or draw and that’s how we are going to attack March.”

St. John’s basketball expected to be in the NCAA Tournament

Every team has a goal at the beginning of the season to make the NCAA Tournament and win the National Championship, among others, but this St. John’s basketball team truly believed it had what it takes to earn a bid on Selection Sunday.

“The expectation was that we were going to get to the NCAA Tournament,” Tartamella explained of his team’s preseason mindset.

“Our expectation has never changed.”

The Red Storm were just a combined 20-34 over the course of the last two seasons but a revamped roster, led by Pittsburgh transfer Jayla Everett, turned a goal into a reality.

“The amazing part about this is that this is what they set forth in June…They weren’t just talking about just being in the postseason.”

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St. John’s began the season 13-0, the best start in program history, and the reality of a special season started to set in after an upset victory over No. 13 Creighton in December, only hours after a late return to Queens following a road win against Butler.

“I kind of new in the summer that we had a chance because I felt like we had the right pieces in place,” Tartamella said.

“You have a lot of people who can say that but it’s hard to back it up sometimes.”

St. John’s has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 2014, Tartamella’s second season as the program’s head coach, and now Purdue stands in the way of continuing a renaissance season.

“They put in the work. This is not a fluke for them.”

Tipoff is schedule for 7:00p.m. ET (ESPN2) on Thursday night from Value City Arena.

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