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There is no better basketball stage for a kid out of Bishop Loughlin High School than the Garden, and no better time than the first round of the Big East Tournament to lift his hometown crowd and carry his hometown team on his shoulders to the quarterfinals Thursday night against Villanova, to the possibility of redemption for a season where there was too little utopia along Utopia Parkway.

There were moments when Julian Champagnie made the Garden sound the way the Garden used to sound, the way the Garden always sounded in the good old days when Louie Carnesecca wore that sweater and Chris Mullin was the Brooklyn gym rat who let the imagination run wild with any and all possibilities.

No one expects this St. John’s team to set the town on fire, to play the lead role in the college basketball version of “The Way We Were” and warm the hearts of anyone who remembers what it meant to cheer for New York’s College Team.

But Champagnie, who had 22 of his team’s 49 points in the first half and finished with 26, showed up on Wednesday night against DePaul and said to hell with that storyline during a 92-73 blowout.

Julian Champagnie — 8-for-12 from the field, including 3-for-6 from Jamaica, in that first half — showed up as a sniper, showed up with an assassin mindset normally reserved for his twin brother Justin on a night when his team somehow committed only two turnovers.

This is the way stars are asked to do it, the way back-to-back first-team Big East stars are supposed to do it, the way big-time players play in the bigger games, and the Red Storm surviving and advancing means an even bigger game will be required from all of them, especially Champagnie, and even bigger defense and bigger bench play, against Villanova.

SJU
Julian Champagnie dunks the ball during St. John’s win over DePaul on Wednesday.
Robert Sabo

“We understand what’s on the line right now,” Champagnie said.

After the first five jittery minutes, all of them understood it. All of them played passionate defense. All of them shared and protected the ball. No one understood it more than Champagnie.

Champagnie Square Garden.

“It’s unbelievable to watch it,” Stef Smith said. “You gotta make sure as his teammate to get him the ball.”

It has been 22 long years since St. John’s won the Big East Tournament championship, 22 long years since Mike Jarvis became the first coach — the only coach — since Carnesecca to uphold a once-proud tradition and light a fire inside the Garden.

“That weekend was not void of controversy and conflicts within our team,” Jarvis told The Post. “As competitive as the guys were, and as well as they played together on the court, they at times were as combative off the court,” Jarvis said.

So much so that Erick Barkley and Bootsy Thornton had a locker-room altercation at halftime against Miami.

“Erick was getting on Bootsy about defense, and Bootsy didn’t take kindly to it. … We almost had to play the game without our starting point guard the second half,” Jarvis said.

Barkley decided he would be taking a leave of absence at the worst possible time.

“We went back to our hotel, the drama continued,” Jarvis recalled, “and we thought we were gonna have to play the championship game the next day without Erick.”

There would be no shootaround at the Garden.

“We went back to the college and tried to mend our wounds,” Jarvis said. “We had a team meeting instead of a practice.

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Stef Smith shoots the ball against DePaul on Wednesday.
Robert Sabo

In the locker room at what was then Alumni Hall the afternoon of the championship game against UConn, Barkley apologized to Thornton and the team.

“At that point, we asked the team to basically make the decision as to whether or not they wanted Erick to play in the game or not,” Jarvis said, “and man for man as we went around the locker room, they basically said that they wanted to have him come back and join the team, and that’s when every player — including Bootsy and the coaches, the managers — everybody, wanted Erick to be back.”

The previous spring, Jarvis had taken his first St. John’s team to the Elite Eight, where they lost to Ohio State.

“I guess years before, Connecticut used to buy up all the tickets,” Jarvis said. “It was like a Connecticut home game. The house was full of St. John’s fans. We had more fans in our building like we should have had than Connecticut. The place was alive. It was electric. … The only other night that I can remember the Garden being as electric was probably when we played Duke.”

The final: St. John’s 80, UConn 70.

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Erick Barkley, Mike Jarvis and Bootsy Thorton celebrate St. John’s 2000 Big East championship.
Nury Hernandez

“Everybody just felt such a feeling of relief,” Jarvis said.

The 2000 team beat Northern Arizona in the NCAA Tournament before losing in an upset to Gonzaga.

“When I took the job, the Knicks were not playing well,” Jarvis recalled, “so you had sort of an extra kind of burden on you because you were representing New York. For a guy with a Boston accent coaching in New York, at times that was rough.”

He will be 77 next month and is currently the adjunct professor and special assistant to the president at South Florida Bible College & Theological Seminary.

“Louie came in and hugged the guys, kissed the guys. … That always made it special having Louie in the house and having Louie be part of the team,” Jarvis said. “The pride that he has always had in St. John’s was incredible.”

Mike Anderson is in his third season of trying to restore the pride, desperately trying to secure that elusive invitation to the Dance. He’ll need Julian Champagnie now more than ever to do it.

Source: NYPOST

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