NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Steve Lavin brought St. John’s back to respectability faster than even the most die-hard Red Storm fan could have hoped. Just as suddenly, it all came crashing down in Thursday’s 86-71 NCAA Tournament loss to Gonzaga.

“It was very silent after,” said senior Dwight Hardy, “and a lot of tears were shed.”

Gonzaga used its size and strength to muscle around the Red Storm, who were back in the tournament for the first time since 2002. There won’t be another chance to dance for the St. John’s seniors.

“We won’t get another chance, the seniors won’t get another chance to play in this atmosphere again,” Hardy said. “I mean, we’re crying right now. But on the other side, we can always look back and say that we had a chance to do something special our senior year, and we made it to the NCAA Tournament.”

Sure, the loss hurts now. But Lavin is hoping time heals those wounds and his players fully understand all they’ve accomplished.

“What I said to the kids right after the game was, while losing is heartbreaking, losing in the NCAA Tournament is heartbreaking, that when they get out a month, two, three months, you know, a year, five years from now, they’re going to look back and realize that they brought St. John’s basketball back,” said Lavin. “It doesn’t take the sting away but they set the bar high for anyone who follows.”

The business of basketball has been booming again for St. John’s under Lavin. The squad has made tremendous strides this season, rebounding from a 17-16 record in 2009-10.

“It’s so strange that this game could be your best feeling moment in basketball and your worst feeling moment in basketball all at the same time,” senior Sean Evans said. “It’s great about all the things we accomplished this season and I’m sure there will come a time to feel good about it all. But right now there’s no more basketball and this was the end.”

St. John’s was looking for its first win on this stage since 2000, when they beat Northern Arizona in the opening round. Back then, just like now, the Red Storm was bounced from the tournament by Gonzaga, back when the Bulldogs were relative unknowns.

“It’s probably the worst feeling you could have,” said senior Justin Burrell.

“I’m sick to my stomach.”

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Some people felt Gonzaga had a “down” year this year. They struggled early. “Only” won 24 games. Many bracketologists thought they needed to win the West Coast Conference tournament to secure their trip to March Madness. Which they did. And once they made it, they looked every bit the tournament regular against the Red Storm, leading by as many as 18 points in a game that was never really close.

“Every time I went to make my initial move they were swarming me,” Hardy said. “Once I beat a defender, it was like two more stepped up.”

The Red Storm simply weren’t the same team without top rebounder and team leader D.J. Kennedy, who tore his right ACL during the Big East tournament. He sat on the bench in his warmups, even lacing up his shoes, hoping maybe he could somehow will his way into the game.

“We definitely missed him,” Paris Horne said. “He brings a lot to the table.”

Do the Johnnies have the pieces to make another run next year? Let us know what you think in the comments below…

(TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  1. Brad Wolff says:

    Of course. The team has a young base with amazing recruits coming in. It doesn’t help that they have an great coach also.

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