By Patrick McCormack
St. John’s University’s failed season ended with another disappointing effort.
The top-seeded Red Storm again tried to rally late after an uninspired start to its 89-78 opening round loss to No. 8 Robert Morris in the NIT Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
St. John’s had also tried to make a come back against Providence last Thursday in the Big East tournament quarterfinal only to suffer a defeat that likely kept it from the NCAA tournament. The effects of missing the Big Dance were seen in the Johnnies’ play early and often. The Red Storm also were without star point guard Rysheed Jordan, who was recovering from tonsillitis.
“I think there was some frustration about not making the NCAA tournament, but before the game I felt a good vibe and good energy,” said sophomore Max Hooper, who had 18 points. “I thought we were going to come out strong. I felt like we had turned the page. We didn’t make the NCAA tournament, but I thought we had a good resolve about it.”
Another key factor in the game was the Colonials’ hot shooting. Robert Morris was 60 percent from three. RMU opened the game on a 19-2 run thanks to the shooting of Northeast Conference Player of the Year Karvel Anderson. He had a game-high 38 points and junior Lucky Jones added 25.
The Red Storm (20-13) couldn’t slow down the Colonials’ attack and RMU took a 49-27 lead in the locker room at half-time.
“It is very disappointing,” said junior guard Jamal Branch, who led the team with 22 points. “We had a chance to play all of our games for the NIT here. I just felt like we didn’t give it our all out there until the last seven minutes of the game. It was very disappointing. I think we didn’t give it our all because we were a little frustrated about the run they made.”
The Colonials, who also upset the No. 1-seeded Kentucky Wildcats in last season’s NIT, were able to keep up their defense and hot shooting in the second half and took a 26-point lead on back-to-back treys from Anderson and Jones. Anderson said that going into the NIT the Colonials (22-13) looked at the game as an opportunity and that showed in the team’s play.
“Many teams after losing or not making the NCAA tournament come in with their heads down,” Anderson said. “They might feel that the NIT is not worth their time, but for us this was another opportunity to showcase who we are and how tough our program is.”
The Red Storm showed some life in the final seven minutes by using a 15-0 run to cut the Robert Morris lead to as little as 74-66, but the Colonials’ effort early on showed that they clearly wanted it more.
“Tonight we were beaten soundly by a good team,” St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin said. “We did not play well in any aspect of play.”