It's been called "The Mecca," and it's commonly known as "The World's Most Famous Arena." Madison Square Garden has played host to an assemblage of spectacles over the years, at a prodigious level. And in the year 2003, inside its hallowed halls, the St. John's Red Storm had their most memorable encounter of the decade.
The 2000s were not kind to the Johnnies. Mike Jarvis' second year running the ship, which bled into the year 2000, was the most successful campaign that the program has had since the turn of the new millennium. Seriously. Since the 21st century began, St. John's has gone 212-220, good enough for an astonishingly average mark with just four 20-win seasons, and two of them have come in the last four years.
Speaking of Mike Jarvis, he was at the helm for this matchup we focus in on today. Nearly every matchup that we have touched on this week has been in the month of March, and this one is no different. However, this encounter took place during the regular season. And the Red Storm were paid a visit by one of college basketball's blue bloods and one of its most notable head coaches.
That being Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils.
On March 2, 2003, the Blue Devils and Red Storm collided at Madison Square Garden. A Sunday matinee showdown in The Big Apple played out and these two teams, at the time, could not be more different.
The Blue Devils were 20-4 and ranked No. 6 in the country. They had collected wins over notorious, name-brand programs that season including UCLA, Ohio State, Michigan, Georgetown and of course: North Carolina Tar Heels. The latter was their most impressive, as they pasted their hated rivals off the back of a beautiful performance from Dahntay Jones, who scored 23 and grabbed 13 rebounds in an 83-74 victory.
The Red Storm meanwhile were standing at 12-12, fishing for something to be excited about. But at this point in time, they were muddied in a four-game losing streak, and had lost six of their last seven games to the likes of Boston College twice, Virginia Tech, Providence, Carmelo Anthony and Syracuse, and Emeka Okafor and Connecticut.
But still, the Garden was packed to the gills for this encounter, and what a thrill it would be for the Red Storm fanbase. They would keep pace with Duke for the first half, trailing by just three points after the first 20 minutes. But powerhouse Duke would not let St. John's stay with them for a while, and with 4:05 remaining in the game, Jones, who was so good in Durham against North Carolina, had flashed his brilliance throughout again, and put Duke ahead 71-60 after connecting with a free throw to give him 23 points.
But then, Marcus Hatten helped St. John's pull off a miraculous upset. Hatten helped St. John's storm back in the final minutes, and finished with 29 points after scoring 16 of the team's last 22, including a 12-0 run. The comeback was capped off by a free throw with just a few seconds remaining in the ballgame, and a sellout crowd at MSG went into euphoria as the Red Storm edged out the Blue Devils 72-71.
The rest of the 2000s may have been underwhelming for St. John's fans, but that Sunday afternoon in March will always stick out as a fond memory to all.