NEW YORK - Steve Lavin didn't have to think twice about handing out a game ball after St. John's upset of No. 9 Notre Dame, 72-54, Sunday at Madison Square Garden.
Senior point guard Malik Boothe came off the bench to score 14 points and hit four straight foul shots in the final 2 minutes and 18 seconds to nail down the victory for the Johnnies (11-5, 4-2 Big East).
St. John's, which is in the midst of an eight-game stretch against Top 25 teams, avenged a 76-61 beatdown at Notre Dame Jan. 8 and stopped a two-game losing streak.
"He's someone that could provide those jumper cables for your team because of his ball pressure and then the ability to escort the ball up the floor in transition," Lavin said of the 5-foot-9 Boothe, who played his high school ball at Christ the King. "He has a great competitive spirit that also is contagious and the other players feed off of that.
"Today clearly he did all the things that a point guard needs to do....He just made some good calls and got us organized coming down the home stretch. After the game, I said, 'Game ball goes to Malik Boothe.' I don't think there's any doubt that he deserves the game ball."
St. John's got a balanced effort in handing Notre Dame (14-4, 3-3) its second straight double-digit Big East loss.
The Irish entered averaging 77 points per game, sixth-best in the Big East, but were held to a season-low scoring output.
D.J. Kennedy had 14 points and eight rebounds, Dwight Hardy scored 12 points and Justin Brownlee added 11.
"They're a heck of team," said Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, whose team shot 29 percent in the first half and 41 percent for the game. "They were picked sixth in the preseason poll. They're a heck of a basketball team."
Lavin said his mantra to the players focuses on "losing" yourself within the team identity, and not worrying about who's starting, who's coming off the bench and how many shots each player is getting.
Boothe appears to be fitting into that framework quite well.
After starting all 32 games last season and 11 of the first 12 this season, he has come off the bench in the last three games while recovering from a hamstring injury. His 14 points were the most since he put up 15 in an opening-night loss at St. Mary's.
"It's not real different," said Boothe, who hit back-to-back 3-pointers in the first half when St. John's took a 26-19 lead. "I've done it before. My freshman year I came off the bench. I look at it as just coming off the bench and giving a spark when it's needed. I think I did a good job of that today."
Said Brey: "He gives them an edge and a toughness. The two 3's he made, he bangs down two 3's when that's kind of what we want to give up."
Lavin said the transition from starter to bench player may have been difficult for Boothe, but wouldn't commit to keeping him in that role going forward.
"I'm sure there's a challenging aspect to [coming off the bench]," Lavin said. "He'd never make it an issue to where it would distract from what our team is trying to accomplish because he's a first-class person. But he's someone that finds a way. He's very resourceful. He uses his ingenuity, his competitive spirit to add value to our team.
"I think his whole life he's been an underdog, he's been undersized and as a result he's found way to add value and to contribute in spite of being undersized."
Lavin has coached plenty of big-name college players during his tenure at UCLA, including Baron Davis and Trevor Ariza.
But he said Boothe, along with Cameron Dollar and Earl Watson, may rank as one of the toughest he's ever coached.
"He'd be in that category with some of the other really tough kids I've coached," Lavin said.