By Anthony Bosco
The St. John’s University men’s basketball team lost its sixth straight Big East Conference matchup Saturday, dropping another painfully close game to the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers, 78-70, at the Louis Brown Athletic Center.
Coming off a devastating 71-69 defeat to the Georgetown Hoyas Jan. 20, which saw Ashanti Cook feed a remarkably open Courtland Freeman for a slam dunk with less than a second left on the clock, SJU was looking to finally break back into the win column against the also struggling Scarlet Knights.
But like so many of the Red Storm’s conference games this season, this one was another nail-biter but one that would eventually get away from the increasingly frustrated SJU squad. The game was deadlocked at 55-all with 6:17 remaining before a three-pointer by Quincy Douby gave Rutgers the lead for good.
“I’m still proud of the team’s physical efforts, but we still have a ways to go in terms of our mental toughness,” said St. John’s interim coach Kevin Clark.
Douby, out of Grady High School, was the story for Rutgers, hitting all five of his three-point attempts, including four during one three-minute stretch in the second half that saw the Scarlet Knights go from one point down to eight points up.
A one-time SJU recruit who reportedly bolted for Rutgers after a less-than-fruitful meeting with former coach Mike Jarvis, Douby finished with 19 along with teammate Ricky Shields. Shields was 4-for-9 from downtown. Herve Lamizana added 14 and Marquis Webb chipped in 10.
Up until that point, however, the Red Storm was right there again, its first conference win visible but just out of reach.
As it has all season long, St. John’s (4-12, 0-6) played very well at times and incredibly poorly at others. The score was tied at 9-9 before Rutgers (10-6, 2-4) scored seven straight, including threes by Shields and Douby, to take a 16-9 advantage at the 11:43 mark of the first half.
But the Red Storm defense kicked it up a notch over the next four-plus minutes to pull within one until Juel Wiggan hit a three with 7:05 left in the half. Back-to-back baskets by sophomore point guard Daryll Hill in the final minute closed the Storm deficit to two, 26-24, at the half.
Kyle Cuffe, who led the Red Storm with 19 points and 10 rebounds, scored to open the second half and tie the game. It would remain close for the next 10 or so minutes, with St. John’s taking its first lead since the early moments of the first half on a three by sophomore guard Elijah Ingram at 13:48 to make the score 40-38.
Freshman Tyler Jones, a much-ballyhooed recruit who has seen only a fraction of playing time, exploded for six points in less than two minutes, but SJU’s lead was never greater than four and the two teams were even when Douby caught fire down the stretch for Rutgers.
“We’re tired of falling short each time,” Cuffe said. “You want to win. It’s annoying.”
Hill had 15 points and four assists, Grady Reynolds added 14 points and six rebounds, and Ingram scored 10 for St. John’s. After hosting West Virginia Wednesday night at Alumni Hall, the Red Storm will take on the UCLA Bruins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.