By Anthony Bosco
The St. John’s Red Storm inched one step closer to its ultimate goal of an NCAA Tournament berth Monday night, defeating the Boston College Eagles, 71-62, before 12,316 at Madison Square Garden.
The win propelled the Red Storm (18-8, 8-6) into sole possession of third place in the Big East Conference’s East Division, while pushing the defending champion Eagles (17-9, 6-7) into fourth and seriously damaging their tournament hopes.
“This was a game that was just extremely important to get,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. “If we can win a couple of more league games, then tonight’s game will be that much more important. We’ve got to continue to do what we’ve go to do.”
And, as has been the case most of the season, St. John’s needed a stellar night from the team’s star, Marcus Hatten. The junior college transfer out of Tallahassee Community College continued to impress, scoring a game-high 31 points on 9-of-17 shooting from the field, grabbing five rebounds, snatching four steals — setting a single-season school record in the process — and dishing out three assists.
Hatten was guarded most of the night by Boston College standout Troy Bell. Bell forced Hatten into four turnovers, but turned it over four times himself in picking up three assists, five rebounds and scoring a team-high 22 points.
And Bell never clamped down on Hatten, who seemed to score at will from just about anywhere on the court.
“I just wanted to come out aggressive,” Hatten said. “When I come out aggressive I tend to do good.”
And that’s exactly what Hatten did against BC, nailing a three-pointer on the Red Storm’s first possession to give the team a lead it would never relinquish. Hatten hit another three less than a minute later for a 6-0 advantage that would swell to as much as 16 in the first half.
Two free throws by Anthony Glover (10 points) at 6:15 gave St. John’s its first double-digit lead as part of a 10-0 run that pushed the Red Storm’s advantage to 28-12 with 5:15 remaining.
“We were just sluggish in the first half,” said Boston College head coach Al Skinner, whose team was coming off a heartbreaking 79-77 overtime loss to Connecticut. “We couldn’t get out of our own way.
“They made some great shots and you can’t take anything away from their offense,” Skinner added. “We had some easy opportunities and we didn’t cash in. I think we’re more responsible for that than what they did.”
St. John’s received contribution from all sides as Sharif Fordham, Kyle Cuffe and Willie Shaw gave the team a lift off the bench, particularly in the second half. Fordham pulled down five rebounds, four on the offensive end, made a spectacular block on Bell during a one-on-one breakaway, had nine points and four steals. Cuffe scored five points and Shaw added seven and three offensive boards.
But despite the team’s seeming dominance throughout the first half, the Eagles were not prepared to lie down. Led by Bell and Queens Village native and Archbishop Molloy grad Uka Agbai (14 points), Boston College got to within six down the stretch.
The Red Storm, however, hit just enough of their free throws and played suffocating defense in crunch time to prevent the Eagles from getting any closer.
“There’s no place like home. Wonderful,” Jarvis said. “Obviously we’re very, very happy for a special group of guys, for the effort they put forth. We keep looking at the stats and they’re never pretty, but most of the time we find a way to win and we did that again tonight.
“We got some lucky bounces, but you get lucky when you work as hard as we worked,” the coach added. “I would’ve hated to think about going into Cameron and playing against Duke on Sunday if we had lost tonight. Tonight, really, really was so important for us.
St. John’s and the No. 3-ranked Blue Devils will hook up Sunday at 4 p.m. Duke has won two of the last three meetings between the two schools, but the Red Storm won the lone meeting at Cameron two years ago, 83-82.
St. John’s 73, Virginia Tech 63. Glover netted his 1,000th career point in the waning seconds of this conference clash Saturday night at Alumni Hall, nailing two free throws that proved to be the final points of the game. Glover finished with 12 points, Hatten 31 and Shaw 11.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.