You can change the culture, you can recruit your aspiration off and upgrade the talent level, you can see the day when St. John’s is back as a force to be reckoned within the Big East and beyond.
But the one-game season doesn’t care about any of that.
The one-game season didn’t care about Tom Brady and the Perfect Patriots in Super Bowl 42 against Eli Manning and the Giants.
The one-game season didn’t care about Big John Thompson and Patrick Ewing in 1985 against Rollie Massimino and Villanova at Rupp Arena.
The one-game season didn’t care about St. John’s innocent climb, didn’t care about its March Madness dreams.
The one-game season didn’t care that top seed Villanova had won three consecutive Big East tournaments any more than Patrick Ewing and Georgetown did in the early quarterfinal at the Garden.
The one-game season didn’t care that a St. John’s-Georgetown Friday night semifinal matchup would conjure up nostalgic memories of Thompson opening his jacket to reveal a replica of Lou Carnesecca’s hideous sweater the night of Feb. 27, 1985, when Ewing led No. 2 Georgetown to victory over Chris Mullin and No. 1 St. John’s at an apoplectic Garden.
This particular one-game season on a late Thursday afternoon gave St. John’s one chance, one 40-minute chance, to survive and advance to that dream Big East Conference Tournament semifinal matchup. One chance, one 40-minute chance, to keep dreaming about The Big Dance.
The one-game season can be so cruel in March, it can send you home for good against your will, or it can send you to the NIT.
And that is where St. John’s, a 77-69 overtime loser to Seton Hall, is forced to head next.
The team that had temporarily forgotten how to win was more desperate than the team that is still learning how to win.
Seton Hall’s stars were better than St. John’s stars. Sandro Mamukelashvili (20 points, 11 rebounds) and Jared Rhoden (19 points, career-high 16 rebounds) met the magnitude of the moment more than Julian Champagnie (16 points, nine rebounds) and a rusty Posh Alexander (six points, two assists in 33 minutes) did.
“They just wanted it more than us,” Rasheem Dunn said.
They just understood the kind of ferocity and relentlessness and poise even without the Garden noise it takes when March demands it.
The Red Storm could not match the Hall’s skill or its will.
The Red Storm could not speed up the Hall as well or as often as it had planned.
The one-game season doesn’t care if you show up with the Big East Coach of the Year, because sometimes there will be a great coach like Kevin Willard waiting in ambush on the other side of the court.
“It’s different season,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “You can just tell how they came out, the sense of urgency that you gotta play with this time of the year.”
It hardly helped the Johnnies that 6-foot-10 reserve Isaih Moore (9.2 points, 4.8 rebounds) was in COVID-19 quarantine, which made life easier on Hall big man Ike Obiagu (seven blocks).
Mamu was brilliant, passing smartly and sharply out of constant double teams, whipping a clutch pass to Myles Cale to put the Hall up 70-64 in OT, while Rhoden honored his Baldwin, L.I., roots with the kind of Garden performance every New York kid craves.
“Who were the guys that stepped up for them? Guys that have been in this tournament for many, many years,” Anderson said, also mentioning seniors Cale and Shavar Reynolds.
Mamukelashvili missed from the right baseline before the regulation buzzer sounded.
Five more minutes.
Anderson needed Five Minutes of Hell now.
Just plain hell instead.
“A good chance to learn about Big East basketball,” Anderson said.
The Red Storm (32.9 percent overall, 6-for-25 from Utopia Parkway) had become The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight in the second half.
“A lot of open shots we missed that we usually make,” Dunn said.
But the Red Storm would not go away. They began playing defense like they meant it after intermission. It resembled an old-school Big East alley fight.
But the Hall was the team that refused to lose.
“They got all the loose balls, it seemed like,” Anderson said.
No Utopia on Utopia Avenue.
“This team’s gonna be really special in the future,” Dunn said.
The one-game season can make you talk about the future much too soon.