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Knicks Ex Rick Pitino Guides St. John's to Long-Awaited Big East Tournament History

Former New York Knicks head coach Rick Pitino has put the St. John's Red Storm in the men's semifinal at the Big East Tournament for the first time in over two decades.

If the first postseason game on its hallowed hardwood is any indication, Madison Square Garden is in for a very fun summer.

Backed by a loyal home crowd at Madison Square Garden, the St. John's Red Storm prevailed 91-72 in a tri-state area battle with the Seton Hall Pirates at the Big East Men's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals. 

St. John's, led by former New York Knicks head coach Rick Pitino, is moving onto the semifinal round of the conference tournament for the first time since 2000. Program staple Joel Soriano had 14 points and 12 rebounds while RJ Luis Jr. was one rebound short of his own double-double with 18 in relief. 

“In our minds, it was just beginning, because March is what it’s all about in college basketball,” Pitino said, per Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “We told the guys, you've got to play your best basketball going into the March ... We knew we had six elimination games and these guys rose to the occasion in all six.”

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Some viewed the tilt between the Red Storm and the Pirates as a play-in game of sorts for the bigger picture, next week's NCAA Tournament. Both were firmly on the bubble but the Red Storm (20-12) now has a sturdier case. 

Thus continues Pitino's exhilarating first year at the helm, one that has seen the Red Storm win each of its past six. Another landmark secured on Thursday was the program's first 20-win tally since 2018-19, which also served as its last NCAA appearance. 

Selection Sunday might as well be years away to the confident Johnnies, who now face a monumental task: a Friday showdown with Connecticut (5:30 p.m. ET, Fox), the top seed of the tournament and defending national champion. Connecticut has accomplished plenty since returning to the Big East in 2020 but a victory in the conference crown jewel at Madison Square Garden has proven elusive.

Pitino knows the tall task ahead: when asked by SNY's Niki Lattarulo on the key to taming the Huskies, the head coach cheekily replied "six of their players (getting) COVID." His players, however, are going to enjoy every step of the journey, no matter how long it lasts.

"It's an unbelievable feeling, man,” Soriano, a Yonkers native and fifth-year man, said, per the Associated Press. "(Pitino) said, ‘Playing Friday night at Madison Square Garden, there’s no better feeling, there's no other tournament bigger than the Big East Tournament.'”