Outside of itself and Connecticut, no team did more damage to Notre Dame's 2008-09 season than St. John's.
Aside from the fact that a road win Jan. 3 at Madison Square Garden would have still giveen the Irish a chance to finish conference play at .500, the 71-65 defeat to the Big East's 14th-ranked preseason team still represents Notre Dame's worst loss of the season.
The Huskies were the only team to beat Notre Dame twice this year, but looking back the loss to the Red Storm was the one that really doomed the Irish even if it was not evident at the time.
"You kind of look back and say, ‘Oh, man if we could have got that one, we wouldn't be in as bad a position as we are now,'" Kyle McAlarney said. "I personally, definitely didn't think it would hurt as much as it did. I thought we would bounce right back and maybe we kind of needed that loss and that would propel us a bit and we'd wake up a bit."
But while the Irish did bounce back with victories over Seton Hall and Georgetown, they went on a seven-game losing streak after that and would not win on the road until Feb. 21.
While McAlarney thought the loss could do the Irish good, Zach Hillesland recognized a missed opportunity when he glanced at the list of upcoming opponents.
"You lose that game and you kind of look at your schedule coming up," said Hillesland "That one, if we're being realistic, you kind of would have penciled in as a win going into the game so that certainly hurt us."
Notre Dame gets its another shot tonight at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Center when the Irish host St. John's. A win by the Irish would assure them of the 10th seed in next week's Big East Tournament while a loss would drop them to 11th.
But while Notre Dame understands how bad that loss really hurt, the Irish are not focusing on tonight's matchup as revenge.
"We've got to stay focused on the game and just take care of business," said Luke Zeller, one of four seniors who will be honored during Senior Day ceremonies. "Things in the past you can't change so we're just going to work in the present to change the future."
One important difference this time is that the Irish will get St. John's in their own building. The Red Storm are just 1-7 on the season on the road and the sole win came last week at DePaul, which has yet to record a league victory. St. John's had lost its previous seven road contests by an average of 17.1 points.
But the Red Storm were able to follow up the win in Chicago with a come-from-behind victory against Georgetown on Tuesday night that gave them three wins in their last four outings. Georgetown led by 15 midway through the second half before the St. John's defense tightened up and was able to force overtime, where the Red Storm prevailed 59-56.
That defense also posed problems for the Irish in New York and is one of Mike Brey's chief concerns for Friday night.
"I think for us, you want to see if you can beat a team that beat you. They're a tough matchup," said Brey. "Everybody in this league with extreme athletic ability, which gets to be just about everybody now, makes for interesting nights for us."
Luke Harangody led the Irish with 28 points and 14 rebounds and Tory Jackson added 14 points, but McAlarney was held to just 10 and the Irish never got a third scorer going and were held well below their 77.7-point average.
The Red Storm outrebounded the Irish 40-27 and held them to just four of 17 on three-point attempts. D.J. Kennedy led St. John's with 20 points in the Jan. 3 matchup while Justin Burrell had 18 and Paris Horne 14.
That same trio of sophomores, along with classmates Sean Evans and point guard Malik Boothe continue to lead the Red Storm. Horne (14.7 points) and Kennedy (13.1) are averaging double-digits while Evans (9.9) and Burrell (9.0) are solid contributors along with Boothe (7.0).
The balanced scoring attack is accompanied by a balanced rebounding attack with Kennedy (6.8 rebounds) and Evans (6.5) leading the way while Booth (4.5 assists) has been a fine floor general.