The phrase 'cool under pressure' is poorly appropriated in our sporting culture. Cliches like this can sometimes run wild when talking about basketball players specifically, because quite honestly, anyone who has ever hit a game-winning shot or hauled down a game-sealing rebound would qualify for the distinction.
With that said, if there was ever an ideal time to bust out the 'cool under pressure' moniker, today is the day. Leading by two after dominating No. 4 Pittsburgh through much of the second half, St. John's head coach Steve Lavin watched in horror as Pitt guarddrained a clutch triple with 11.3 seconds the clock. It was every bit the proverbial dagger, thrust mightily into the guts of Johnnies everywhere. Another brilliant performance thwarted by a Big East bully, some thought.
But in the face of adversity, Lavin never broke character. Immediately after Woodall's shot tickled the twine, Madison Square Garden was utter pandemonium for all the wrong reasons. And then the TV camera panned to an expressionless Lavin, who strangely enough, appeared to be watching everything go to plan. Straight-faced, he promptly nodded at an official for a timeout. No scowl, no frantic arm waving, and absolutely no yelling.
That's why the play that followed next - Dwight Hardy sinking an improbably tippy-toe layup to give St. John's a one-point win - might actually have been less important than the moments leading up to it. If Lavin had reacted negatively to Woodall's shot and then carried himself in a frantic way in the timeout like many coaches might have, would the outcome have been the exact same? Hard to say.
Varying coaching styles will always produce varying results when it comes to a player's individual response to his coaches. Not only does Lavin's calmness rub off on his players, it also strengthens their confidence to know that their coach isn't even close to being frazzled and still fully believes in their ability to get the job done. For a man who often gets criticized as a mediocre in-game coach and inherited a team that most assumed was NIT-bound, Lavin has done more than enough to be a serious candidate National Coach of the Year.
Today's outcome was the Red Storm's sixth win over a top 25 team this season. Among the vanquished foes are #13 Georgetown, #11 Notre Dame, #3 Duke, #9 Connecticut, and now #4 Pittsburgh. Go ahead and pull up the schedule of your favorite school and try to make the case against St. John's not getting a postseason bid. That's right, you can't. At this point, missing the NCAA Tournament would be more of a stretch than anything else. As long as they can continue to feed off the calmness exuded by their leader, this should be one of the most dangerous teams in the 68-team field.