By Rob Abruzzese
The St. John’s men’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament hopes took a big hit when the Red Storm lost an opportunity for a résumé-boosting win over No. 20 Pittsburgh.
“I felt like we could have won this game,” said St. John’s’ JaKarr Sampson. “We just didn’t execute down the stretch. We missed open shots, missed box out assignments, but we definitely feel we let this one go.”
The Red Storm trailed throughout the entire first half of the game, but managed to mount a comeback after the break. It didn’t last as Pittsburgh put the clamps on defensively, forcing nine second-half turnovers to beat St. John’s 63-47 at Madison Square Garden Sunday.
“We were right there,” said Johnnies’ Coach Steve Lavin, who recently missed back-to-back games due to the death of his father. “We definitely let this opportunity slip away.”
The loss drops the Red Storm (16-11, 8-7) into ninth place in the Big East and hurts their chances at making the NCAA Tournament.
The Johnnies struggled to find scoring options all game. Sampson led the team with just 14 points, and Phil Greene pitched in with 11. No other players were in double digits while Pittsburgh’s Tray Woodall had a season-high 25 points. D’Angelo Harrison especially struggled as he shot just 1-for-12 and finished with just six points for the Red Storm.
“You just worry about the next shot because you are always one shot away from being hot,” Harrison said. “It was just one of those nights.”
The Red Storm shot 31.6 percent for the game. If that wasn’t the biggest reason for the loss, it was second half turnovers of which the Johnnies committed nine that led to 17 Pittsburgh points.
The Red Storm had pulled ahead 33-32 with 17:26 left in the game when the turnovers kicked in. Pittsburgh went on a 10-2 run that put them up seven points. St. John’s got as close as three points after that, but another run by Pittsburgh, 13-2 this time, finished it off.
“I think we were kind of in the desert offensively and that’s a credit to Pittsburgh in terms of their defense,” Lavin said.
St. John’s has dropped to 2-5 against ranked teams. It has three games left with two of them coming against No. 25 Notre Dame and No. 17 Marquette. Winning at least one of those games will go a long way toward getting them into the NCAA tournament.