Jarvis's one pregame worry is this: Syracuse will storm out of the gate, and 20,000 fans will take the Johnnies out of the game early. "Don't let them jump on you," he tells his players as they head toward the court.
THE SYRACUSE GAME
Well, the Orangemen jump. With both feet. Just over seven minutes into the game Syracuse leads 25-10 and the Dome is rocking. But St. John's never stops plugging. Barkley plays a steady floor game and finishes with four assists, three steals and only two turnovers. Thornton, finding his outside touch cold, looks for openings along the baseline—"I had to find my way down among the trees," he would say later—and scores a team-high 21. Junior guard Lavor Postell, the team's sixth man and a defensive stopper turned saturation bomber, is all over the offensive boards and scores 18 points. Artest, simply the best player on the floor—and on a lot of other floors, too—contributes a key steal, then a key blocked shot late as St. John's comes back to win 75-70.
Afterward, Artest (19 points, five rebounds, four assists, two blocks, two steals) stretches out wearily on a sofa in the locker room. "Hey, we could use this couch in my mom's house," he says. Jarvis is elated. Getting out of the Dome with a W after trailing by 15 points is like a win-and-a-half. He holds an ice bag to his bald scalp. During the game he got so excited that he bonked himself on the head with the 1993 Sweet 16 ring he earned at George Washington. "Let's get the heck outta here," the coach says, "before they change the score."
FRIDAY, JAN. 29, ST. JOHN'S CAMPUS
Practice the day before the UConn game is not going well. Sophomore forward Reggie Jessie is the only player who is communicating on defense. Then Artest goes into one of his sudden funks, directing a stream of invective at a teammate for not getting him the ball. Jarvis stops practice, gathers his players around him and talks softly for a few minutes. "Now, are you ready?" he says to Artest. He repeats the question until he gets the answer he is looking for, which is not a nod or a sullen "Yeah" but a simple "Yes."
Artest, a 19-year-old sophomore, is on the one hand the quintessential inner-city player, a complex and moody young man from a rough neighborhood in Queens, whose demons appear from time to time. But he is also St John's savviest player, the one who points teammates to the correct spots on the floor, the one with a point guard's mind for the game. Indeed, is there another player in the country who can post up low so effectively, then bounce outside to run the offense? He is unselfish almost to a fault and works harder than any of his teammates. But he is immature at times, and Jarvis believes it would be beneficial for him to stay another year. Though Artest is coy about it, the feeling on the team is that—ready or not—he will turn pro after the season.
THE UCONN GAME
Down 16-3 just a little over four minutes into the game. Up 53-41 three minutes into the second half. Tied at 65 with five min utes left. St. John's can be praised for never quitting when it gets behind. At the same time it can be excoriated for its inability to hold a lead, something it had also failed to do during early-season losses to Stanford and Purdue. The Johnnies walk a thin line. They play with tenacity when they're trying to catch up, but they play recklessly when they're trying to hold a lead. "We seem to be at our best when we're behind, because then we are the aggressors," says Jarvis. "When we get a lead, I think we try to catch a little rest." Connecticut, a much more seasoned team—and, not incidentally, a much deeper one—plays with both heart and intelligence down the stretch and pulls out a 78-74 win.
In the heat of battle Artest again blows up at his teammates. Barkley, who fears no one, goes back at him verbally. Artest's frustration is perhaps understandable. He played 39 tough minutes, sometimes being deployed at the perimeter of the zone defense, sometimes wrestling underneath with UConn's 6'11" center Jake Voskuhl, and he felt that some of his teammates let him down. But he has to learn that they're playing just as hard as he is, though not, perhaps, with skills that match his.
Artest is not the only one with lessons to learn. Barkley, a throwback point guard whom any coach in the country would be glad to have, has to shoot better—he was 8 of 33 from the field during the three-game stretch. Postell has to select better shots; his gunning sometimes upsets his teammates. The big men, Richardson and backup Donald Emanuel, have to realize that they are not offensive options-and instead should increase their effort at the defensive end. Jessie has to take better care of the ball.
After the game a frustrated Artest first decides to blow off his scheduled appearance in the interview room and heads for the exits, then thinks better of it and returns to face the press. Jarvis is already at the mike. "These three games are the games that either make you or break you," says the coach, "and I really believe they're going to make us."
St. John's isn't Duke and it isn't UConn, but it's a little closer to both teams than it was when hell week started. As Jarvis works his way smoothly through the questions, four of his players—Artest, Barkley, Jessie and Thornton—sit beside him. They are disappointed and sullen, but they're there, and as Bootsy knows, representing is important. All things considered, these Johnnies represent pretty well.