Tag Archives: Steve Lavin

Syracuse Beats St. John’s; DJ Kennedy Injured

NEW YORK—After St. John’s beat Pittsburgh, a game in which D.J. Kennedy scored 11 points, grabbed seven rebounds, and recorded two steals, teammate Justin Burrell said, “I love when D.J. plays well. When D.J. plays well it elevates our team to a new level.”

The Johnnies were flying high that afternoon after pulling off another upset at Madison Square Garden. Kennedy, a Pittsburgh native, had finally beaten the Panthers for the first time in his career.

Contrast that to the scene at the Garden yesterday. St. John’s was not only eliminated from the Big East Tournament by Syracuse, it lost Kennedy to a knee injury that will prevent the senior starter from playing in the NCAA Tournament.

“When he went down I was kind of shocked,” senior point guard Dwight Hardy said. “We knew we were losing one of our best players for the moment.” Hardy went on to praise the team’s depth before conceding that “to lose a player like him who does everything for us is crucial. We’re going to have to find a way to excel.”

Kennedy leads St. John’s in rebounds (5.6 per game) and steals (1.8), is second in assists, and third in scoring at 10.4 points per game. He is a do-it-all type of player, a 6’5 swingman with long arms who affects the game on both ends of the floor. Behind Hardy, the team’s leading scorer, he was probably St. John’s most important player.

Hardy and senior forward Sean Evans talked about how others will have to step up in Kennedy’s absence, how everyone will have to contribute a little more. Burrell agrees. “No guy can step in for D.J. No guy will be able to do that,” Burrell said. “Everybody on the team has to pick it up a little bit. There’s definitely no way one person can do what D.J. does.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim was asked what it’s like to lose a key player at this juncture of the season. The Orange played in last year’s NCAA Tournament without starting center Arinze Onuaku after he was injured in Syracuse’s Big East Tournament opener, which it lost. “Look at Georgetown—they haven’t won a game since [starting point guard and second leading scorer] Chris Wright went down. They went from a top 10 team to losing four in a row,” Boeheim said. “You can’t absorb a loss like that, especially if you have three key guys. Maybe you can lose a guy if you have great depth. Last year we did have good depth so we were able to survive and win a couple of games and we could have won a third game in the Tournament. It’s difficult to lose a guy like that, there’s no question about it.”

One thing St. John’s certainly has going for it as it enters the NCAA Tournament (where it is currently projected as a No. 6 seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi) is depth. Nine players average at least 11 minutes; seven of them are seniors. Even without Kennedy, it’s a deep, experienced team.

But how will the emotional toll of losing such a well-liked teammate affect St. John’s? Without time to process it, the Red Storm put on an admirable performance. Down 12-5 when Kennedy got hurt, St. John’s only lost by six to the No. 11 Orange.

After the game, the Red Storm players appeared dejected. For them to think of the program participating in its first NCAA Tournament since 2002 without one of the players who helped get them there was difficult.

“If he doesn’t get to play with us, it’s going to be devastating,” Hardy said. “But we’ve still got to play a basketball game at the end of the day and we’re going to play as hard as we can for D.J.”

“I don’t think it’s going to feel the same because we lost one of our brothers. It’s hurting me, I think, as much as it hurts him,” said Evans, Kennedy’s best friend on the team. “If he doesn’t get to play it’s going to be hurtful, but I think it will be fuel to the fire. You’ve got my word, I’m going to play as hard as I can for D.J. and for the rest of my teammates.”

It’s hard to say how it will go. With the sadness expressed by Hardy, Evans, and others came the message of determination as well. Players and others associated with the program have launched a “Do It for DJ” campaign on Twitter.

“I’m really proud of our players,” St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin said. “Losing D.J. Kennedy to an injury, and having to step up and find a way to counter-punch without one of our key contributors, speaks volumes about our players’ character and resiliency and their will to win. And that will serve us well next week in the NCAA Tournament.”


  • When asked about the purpose of conference tournaments, Lavin mentioned that one of the benefits is that it gives teams near the bottom of the standings a reason to continue to work hard in practice, knowing they still have hope of reaching the NCAA Tournament. I completely agree. The fact that the Atlantic 10 only allows 12 of its 14 teams into the tournament is ridiculous. This year’s tournament is a great example: one semifinal will feature No. 9 seed Dayton vs. No 12 seed Saint Joe’s, meaning one of the two will get a chance to play for an automatic bid to the Big Dance on Sunday. Who’s to say one of the teams left out couldn’t have made a similar run?
  • Syracuse freshman center Fab Melo is averaging less than 10 minutes per game, but played 22 against St. John’s after seeing 16 minutes of action in Syracuse’s previous game. The reason? Extra practice time. The Orange had seven days between its final two regular season games, and then another five before its Big East Tournament opener. “I think those practices were huge for him,” Boeheim said. “He’s worked hard in practice.” Melo has played well, too, and it will be interesting to see how much of a factor the 7-footer is going forward.

Steve Lavin of St. John’s Pushing the Right Buttons

teve Lavin is by no means an old coach. At 46, he is still a few years below the average age of Division I basketball head coaches (49.65 according to StatSheet.com). But he was just 32 when he became the head coach at UCLA and 38 when he was fired in 2003. After seven years as a television analyst, Lavin is in his first year at St. John’s.

“I’m probably more calm than I was the first time around at UCLA as a head coach,” Lavin said after St. John’s upset Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. “[In your early 30’s] there’s a little more adrenaline, emotion, and energy, and as you get older you’re a little more even-keeled.”

Lavin said he looks at the world through a “different lens” than he did when he got his first head coaching gig, and you can’t argue with the on-court results. St. John’s (17-9, 9-5 Big East) already has more regular seasons wins this season than it has had since the 2001-02 season. Given its remaining schedule (DePaul, at Villanova, at Seton Hall, South Florida), that record is likely to look even better in a couple of weeks.

Lavin could always get the job done off the court (routinely securing highly-ranked recruiting classes), and as he’s gotten older it appears he’s learned more about in-game strategy. This is not to suggest he has altered his X’s and O’s approach; rather he seems to know what buttons to push to best motivate his players.

At a timeout against Pitt with just under four minutes remaining and his team trailing, Lavin noticed his players were “deflated” and thought they were playing “joyless basketball.”

“I was really encouraging the group for the last four minutes to have fun, that life will never get any better than this moment,” Lavin said. He told his players, “This is Madison Square Garden, you’ve got this place electrified, you’re playing with your best friends, and we’re playing the No. 4 team in the country. This is fun. It’s not about the winning or losing or whether we get a bucket here or not, it’s about enjoying this moment and playing with passion and everything we have to celebrate this gift.”

Dwight Hardy, who scored seven of the Red Storm’s final nine points, including the game-winning layup with 1.2 seconds left, confirmed his coach’s cool demeanor. “He’s the calmest out of everybody. Just sitting there, smiling, saying we’re going to win the game…He’s a wonderful coach because he can relate to us. He acts like a kid.”

It might sound a little sappy, but obviously Lavin’s speeches have been working for the last few weeks. St. John’s beat Duke (ranked fourth at the time and now No. 1) on Jan. 30 to start a run of six wins in its last seven games, including three victories over teams in the top 10.

Steve Lavin addresses media
Lavin explains his reasoning for losing the tie and dress shoes.

The Red Storm could have easily had a letdown effort at Rutgers, its opponent immediately after Duke. St. John’s blew a 10-point lead late in the game, but Lavin drew up a beautiful final play and the Red Storm won by two. At Cincinnati, St. John’s found a way to win (by two) despite not converting a field goal in the final nine minutes. Playing two days later—and for the third time in just six days—St. John’s scored another road victory, this one at Marquette.

Lavin has even switched his attire in his eighth season as head coach. Known for his stylish suits, Lavin lost his tie and traded his dress shoes for sneakers when St. John’s played Duke during the Coaches vs. Cancer awareness weekend. St. John’s is 6-1 since he made the move to the more casual outfit, but Lavin insists the permanent switch has nothing to do with superstition.

“I thought I was doing a more effective job of teaching. It’s so basic, but there isn’t anything more essential than breath and oxygen. I felt my decision-making and clarity and everything was at a higher level when I didn’t have the tie on,” Lavin said with a surprising amount of seriousness. “And the shoes allow me to move a little better on the sideline. If you want to demonstrate something you aren’t going to fall on your fanny in your Florsheims.”

No detail has gone unnoticed for Lavin and his staff, a big reason why St. John’s is ranked for the first time since 2000. With a talented group of players that have clearly bought in to their coach’s philosophy, St. John’s fans can only hope Lavin has a few more motivational ploys left over for the Big East tournament and the Big Dance.

St. John’s Upsets Pitt at Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK—It’s time to consider St. John’s a favorite to win the Big East tournament. With today’s 60-59 victory over No. 4 Pittsburgh, the Red Storm improved its season record to 7-1 at Madison Square Garden, the venue for the conference tourney. Pitt joins Georgetown, Notre Dame, Duke, and Connecticut as top-13 teams (both at the time and currently) that lost to St. John’s at the World’s Most Famous Arena.

The Red Storm beat Notre Dame by 18, Duke by 15, and UConn by 17, but this win was probably the most impressive. Pitt (24-3, 12-2 Big East) had not lost on the road yet this season and was aided by the return of leading scorer Ashton Gibbs, who had missed the previous three games with a knee injury.

Pitt has also had great success at the Garden. Since the 2000-01 season, the Panthers were 26-11 overall at MSG and had reached the finals of seven Big East tournaments (winning two). They had already won twice at the Garden earlier this season (beating Maryland and Texas). But Dwight Hardy’s twisting layup with 1.2 seconds left gave St. John’s (17-9, 9-5) a one-point victory and sent yet another message to the rest of the Big East.

“That moment was pretty surreal. To see the ball settle into the net and look up at the clock with that crowd on its feet and realize we had an opportunity to beat Pittsburgh, the number four team in the country, on that shot, was pretty special,” said St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin.

It was a moment Lavin wasn’t sure he’d get to experience. It was a back and forth game in the second half, but Pitt held a six-point advantage with under seven minutes remaining. That’s when Lavin noticed his team was “deflated.”

“I was encouraging the group for the last four minutes to have fun,” Lavin said. “I felt there was a stretch where we were playing joyless basketball.” At the final media timeout he told his players “It’s about enjoying this moment and playing with passion.”

The Red Storm responded. Pittsburgh entered the game No. 1 in the country in rebounding margin (+12) and tops in the Big East in free throws attempted. St. John’s, meanwhile, was last in the conference in rebounds per game. But when it mattered the most the Johnnies were more Pitt-like than the Panthers themselves, attempting 12 free throws over the last six minutes and grabbing a couple of critical offensive boards.

For the game, each team had 31 rebounds; it was just the second time this season that Pitt failed to grab at least 10 offense rebounds. From the free throw line, St. John’s hit 23-of-32 from the line while Pitt was just 10-of-18.

Lavin said his team’s goal before the season was to make the NCAA Tournament, to send the 10 seniors out on a high note. “I’d say in terms of the number of wins over quality opponents, we may be a bit ahead of schedule,” he said. “My hope was by March to have a dangerous, scrappy, opportunistic team that could beat anybody in the country if they didn’t bring an ‘A’ game or if they overlooked us. It appears we’ve hit that in late January and February.”

It’s possible that Georgetown or Notre Dame or maybe even Duke overlooked St. John’s. It’s highly doubtful that Pittsburgh did, but it lost anyway. St. John’s has shown it is a team capable of winning the Big East tournament—even if it won’t have quite the same fan advantage as it does for its true home games at the Garden—and one that won’t be an easy out in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think it gives us a good advantage in the Big East Tournament, playing on our home court,” Hardy the hero said. “It shows we’re dangerous here, we come to play. The crowd just backs us up. It’s like extra people on the court when they’re here.”


  • Gibbs sat the first five minutes of the game but carried Pitt in the first half. St. John’s led by as many as nine with 7:43 left but Pitt closed with a 15-5 run to take a 27-26 lead. Gibbs had 15 of his team’s final 20 points of the half. He finished with a game-high 26. No other Pitt player scored more than seven.
  • Gibbs was asked if he thinks Pitt has the pieces for a Final Four run. “Yeah, I think so,” he said. “We have all the pieces. Everybody’s unselfish. I think everybody knows their role. We just have to keep it up on the defensive end. Defense and rebounding affects our offense, so if we do those things we’ll be fine on the offensive end too.”
  • In a one-point game, obviously every point counts, and Pitt was hurt by having some poor foul shooters. Nasir Robinson (54.5 percent from the line on the season), Gary McGhee (48.8 percent), and Dante Taylor (57.5 percent) shot a combined two-for-nine from the stripe.
  • “He probably was expecting help,” Pitt guard Brad Wannamaker said of teammate Gilbert Brown, who defended Hardy on the final basket. “That’s what we focus on. That’s the basis of our defense—forcing it to the baseline and having a guy to help. It was just miscommunication.”
  • Pittsburgh native D.J. Kennedy committed three turnovers and picked up a technical foul in the first half, but came alive in the final six minutes, scoring six points, recording two steals, and grabbing a critical offensive rebound. “I love when DJ plays well,” teammate Justin Burrell said. “When DJ plays well it elevates our team to a new level…For him to get that offensive rebound really lifted our team’s morale.”
  • St. John’s will be ranked on Monday for the first time since Nov. 28, 2000. “I can’t wait,” Burrell said. It’s been four long years without seeing a number. I’m really excited.”


Pitt attempts a free throw, something it did not do enough.
Pitt defends against St. John’s in the second half.
Unlike the Duke game, no fans rushed the court this time.
St. John’s seniors Justin Burrell (left) and Dwight Hardy talk to the media after the game.
Dwight Hardy describes (verbally and physically) his game-winning basket.
St. John’s senior and Pittsburgh native D.J. Kennedy and Steve Lavin address media after the game.
Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon addresses the media after the game.
Brad Wanamker and Ashton Gibbs of Pitt address the media after the game.


Travon Woodall’s three-pointer to give Pitt a one-point lead with 14 seconds left:

Dwight Hardy’s game-winning layup:

Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon’s opening statement to media:

St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin’s opening statement to media: