St. John's sent five freshman out for the opening tip-off last night against West Virginia and never looked back in a 78-62 victory at Madison Square Garden.
It is believed to be the first time the university began a game with five freshman since their 1927-28 team which later become known as the "Wonder Five."
Head coach Steve Lavin may have been watching his team from an luxury suite a few tiers above the action below— while recuperating from prostate cancer surgery— but it was his suggestion to assistant coach Mike Dunlap to start the five frosh.
"It's a lineup that coach Lavin has talked about in our staff meetings," said Dunlap. "He just said 'When you feel it, do it' and I felt it today."
The five freshman— part of last year's highly anticipated recruiting class— put together one of the Red Storm's most complete games of the season and ended a four-game losing streak.
St. John's fans have been waiting all season to see some evidence of what is considered the greatest incoming class in the school's history. Last night, they saw some harbingers of things (now woefully lacking) hopefully to come— defense and finishing.
While Lavin's suggestion worked brilliantly on Wednesday night, the team lacks height and is still only seven men deep. Only Malik Stith has a full Big East season under his belt and actually knows how brutal the Big East schedule can be.
Last night there were more than a few groans after the Mountaineers (15-6, 6-3) went on a 13-2 run to trim the Storm's lead to 68-59 with less than three minutes left. Even with a lead, there is still doubt in the hearts of Storm fans.
Amir Garrett, Phil Greene, Moe Harkless, D'Angelo Harrison and Sir' Dominic Pointer showed their poise and led a St. John's (9-11, 3-6) team that shot better (.484 FG) and finally closed out the game— especially after the blown ten-point second half lead against Villanova on Saturday still fresh in their minds.
A blocked shot by God's Gift Achiuwa into the hands of Phil Greene, who raced down court to make the score 73-59 with 2:15 left, turned the groans into victory cheers.
If any one can understand the virtue of patience and preach it to his young team through example, it's Lavin.
The coach isn't sure when he will return to the bench— it could be next season— but is still recruiting and recuperating.
"I'll definitely be back on the sidelines, but I have to be mindful of the doctor's advice about doing what's best for my health," he said. "I am doing a disservice to our current team and to our program if I don't make the prudent choices for my health."
Even West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was asked about starting five freshmen and compared it to Michigan's famed squad which beat his Cincinnati team in the NCAA semifinals.
"In 1992, I saw the Fab Five and I didn't like that much," Huggins said. "I didn't like this much more. They are talented guys."
Just a reminder to the new "Wonder Five." The original group went on a 24-game win streak two years later.