By Joseph Staszewski
Another nationally ranked opponent on the ropes became another potential victory that slipped away in the final minutes from St. John’s University.
The Red Storm’s 74–67 loss to No. 8 Villanova Saturday at Madison Square Garden looked eerily similar to when it fell to No. 2 Syracuse Dec. 15 at the Garden. Both times St. John’s went toe to toe to one with of the nation’s best teams only to be undone by turnovers and empty possessions in the final minutes.
“We competed, but we didn’t finish the task,” St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin said.
The Red Storm, which dropped to 0-3 in Big East play, led 56-55 with 7:43 remaining in the game. Villanova responded with an 8-0 run, thanks to three-pointers from Kris Jenkins and Darrun Hillard, to grab a 63-56 advantage with 5:08 left to play. St. John’s (9-6, 0-3) turned the ball over twice during that span and three of its eight giveaways came in the final 6:00.
“We don’t really have many turnovers, but our turnovers occur at the wrong time at the end of the game,” sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson said.
The slow start in league and a 1-6 record against major conference opponents isn’t where a St. John’s team with goals of making the NCAA tournament expected to be. Sampson, who had 10 points and nine boards, said he was surprised at where they are, but not concerned with being in last place because the team has put itself in position to win games.
“We aren’t worried,” he said.
Sampson said St. John’s is searching to establish its identity. They’d like to be a squad that consistently plays fast and off its emotions. The Red Storm did that for a good part of 34 minutes, but missed shots and costly turnovers hurt them late. Lavin said his hopes of an NCAA tournament berth have not changed.
“My goal is to just get our team to be the best basketball come March,” he said. “That objective doesn’t change.”
Point guard Rysheed Jordan remains a bright spot. He scored 10 of his 12 points, including six straight, in the second half. His bucket put the Johnnies up right before the Wildcats’ (15-1, 4-0) game-changing run.
“He got that period in the second half when we didn’t have an answer,” Villanova Coach Jay Wright said of Jordan.
D’Angelo Harrison paced St. John’s with 22 points. Villanova had five players in double figures led by former Bishop Loughlin star JayVaughn Pinkston’s 15 points and 10 rebounds.
He and the Wildcats, who have more experience in big games, took away another win St. John’s has in position to grab.
“Nothing is going to be given to you in this league,” Lavin said. “You need to go out and earn every win.”