The Red Storm came through in front of a number of members of the school's 1985 Final Four team, snapping a five-game losing streak with a 74-55 victory over Louisville on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
D.J. Kennedy scored 15 points and Justin Burrell matched his season high with 14 for St. John's (13-10, 3-8 Big East), which hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2002 and has had five losing seasons in the last six years.
"It's always great to play in front of those guys. It's just great being around those guys," Red Storm coach Norm Roberts said of the team that featured Chris Mullin, Walter Berry and Mark Jackson and was coached by Hall of Famer Lou Carnesecca. "It was great for those guys to see how hard these young men are working to bring St. John's back to prominence."
Samardo Samuels had 18 points for the Cardinals (15-9, 6-5), who committed 16 turnovers, went 9 of 18 from the free throw line and missed 10 of their first 11 3-point attempts. Louisville had its lowest point total of the season, 25 below its season average.
"It was our worst game of the season, but I think St. John's had a lot to do with that with the way they play defense," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "Four or five of our guys had their poorest game of the season, but that's due to their great defense."
The Red Storm ended a run of blowing halftime leads. St. John's was in front at halftime for the fourth time in five games and the others all turned into losses to ranked teams -- Pittsburgh, Villanova and West Virginia. The latest of those games was the worst with the Red Storm seeing a 43-30 lead with 13:30 to play turn into a 79-60 loss to the fifth-ranked Mountaineers.
"We've played well in the first half and had lulls that hurt us," Roberts said. "Today we put 40 minutes together. I told them after the game, 'Remember this. Bottle this. This is what we did. We didn't do anything extraordinary. We didn't make 12 3s. All we did was play very hard, rebounded, stayed together and made plays when we had to."
Kennedy said the Red Storm just tried to keep up the intensity from the first half when they took a 33-23 lead.
"We know we're used to having the lead at halftime and then things go wrong for us," he said. "We basically just tried to keep communicating with each other and just keep the intensity and the energy up."
The 25th anniversary of the last St. John's team to be ranked No. 1 and reach the Final Four was celebrated with a halftime ceremony. Many in the crowd of 5,748 had to be thinking Louisville had St. John's right where it wanted them.
This time, the Red Storm broke from a 40-34 lead with an 11-0 run that was part of a 27-5 spurt that put them ahead 67-39 with 4:10 left.
"Today we rebounded for 40 minutes, played great defense for 40 minutes," Kennedy said. "We ain't shoot too good for the whole game, but our defense was there for 40 minutes. Any time you got defense there for 40 minutes, your chances of winning are great."
The Cardinals closed within 40-34 when Preston Knowles hit their first 3 of the game with 15:25 to go.
Instead of folding like the recent games, the Red Storm took off on their run and Louisville looked lost the rest of the game.
"I think you have to give credit when credit is due," said Louisville guard Edgar Sosa, who finished 0 for 6 from the field with five turnovers. "They were playing great defense, They took us out of a lot of our sets."
Pitino, who coached the New York Knicks and Boston Celtics, was the subject of another NBA rumor earlier Thursday. The New York Daily News, citing unidentified sources, said Pitino was interested in the New Jersey Nets job.
"When someone speaks an untruth it's a bit of a distraction," he said after the game. "I want to just concentrate on coaching and playing. When people speak an untruth, it bothers you. There is no truth to it. ... I've been at Louisville for nine years and I want to coach till I'm 65 and I hope it's at Louisville and I hope they'll have me. It's a distraction, a nuisance."
Sosa said it didn't affect the team.
"Not at all," he said. "I don't think anybody on the team spoke about it. I mean we heard about it this morning, but that had nothing to do with the game."