SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — “Welcome to the original home of Seton Hall basketball,” the Walsh Gym public address announcer exalted before introducing the starting lineups for Monday’s clash between St. John’s and Seton Hall. The two Big East rivals turned back the clocks as the Walsh Gym hosted its first conference game in 37 years in front of a crowd of 1,400 fans, made up nearly entirely of students.
The tiny gym on the South Orange campus of Seton Hall held a life of its own the fans roared and jeered for nearly 40 minutes before St. John’s had all but secured the win and sent them headed for the exits early. Students lined up outside the building hours beforehand to get inside and when they made it the noise never stopped.
“Before the game even started during the starting lineups, just hearing the energy in the arena I felt so, so good I got goosebumps,” Seton Hall guard Jamir Harris said. “Just hearing the crowd, how enthusiastic they were and how ready to go they were. It was a great feeling, a special feeling having everyone in there motivating us to keep going.”
St. John’s was greeted by boos and jeers as they warmed up and the building roared with every Seton Hall basket. When the Pirates clawed back from a 20 point deficit to cut the St. John’s lead to 10, the roof nearly came off the 40-year-old gymnasium.
After Jared Rhoden knocked down a three-pointer with 3:57 left in the first half, and play stopped for a media timeout, he looked at the crowd and motioned for them to make even more noise than they already had been. They happily obliged.
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“It was great. Having the students come out and support us like that,” Harris said. “So much energy it definitely was a great atmosphere and it definitely felt like home. It was good having that out there, bringing the energy non-stop from the start of the game and it meant a lot to us.”
Even the Johnnies enjoyed the old-school feel to the second game of a rare home-and-home. St. John’s Carnesecca Arena is a smaller venue, but it holds 5,602 compared to the 1,400 at Walsh Gym.
“I thought it was fun,” St. John’s forward Aaron Wheeler said. “It felt like everyone was on top of you. It wasn’t too many people in there, but it was still very loud. I thought it was a great environment overall. I liked it.”
Monday’s game ended up at the 40-year-old gymnasium due to COVID. It had originally been slated to take place on Dec. 20 at the Prudential Center, but it was postponed due to COVID issues within the Seton Hall program.
The Pirates will return to the Prudential Center on Wednesday for a meeting with Marquette, which is fine with head coach Kevin Willard who preferred The Rock to Walsh.
“I don’t like playing here,” Willard said. “It’s almost like it fits (St. John’s) perfect. They play in Carnesecca all the time, it’s a small bandbox. But it is what it is, you have no control of the schedule.”