By Joseph Staszewski
It won’t be a happy new year for St. John’s.
The No. 15-ranked Red Storm men’s basketball team opened its Big East season with a sluggish effort and were outplayed by Seton Hall in a 78-67 loss at the Prudential Center on Jan 31.
The defeat snaps St. John’s seven-game winning streak and is a tough start to stretch that includes games against Butler and No. 6 Villanova. Seton Hall played without star freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead (foot), and was impressive nevertheless. It wasn’t the way the Johnnies wanted to head into 2105 after an 11-1 start, SJU coach Steve Lavin expressed to Pirates coach Kevin Willard after the game.
“I said you ruined my new year,” Lavin said.
The Johnnies (11-2) were undone by a stellar game from Seton Hall point guard Sterling Gibbs, who hit five of the Pirates’ 10 three-pointers. Gibbs scored 25 points, dished out eight assists and did not commit a turnover. Seton Hall (11-2) coughed the ball up just eight times.
“[It] was as close to a masterpiece for a leader and a point guard that you can have,” Lavin said. “He picked his spots when to knock down daggers, but he also executed well against our traps.”
Despite all that, St. John’s was right in the game trailing just 65-63 with 5:21 remaining in the contest. It could have been less, but the usually reliable D’Angelo
Harrison (25 points) missed two technical free throws after a Jamal Branch 3-point play.
Seton Hall responded by going on a 13-4 run to close the game, when Harrison said his team was pressing for points. Phil Greene IV added 15 points and Rysheed Jordan had 11.
It was the second poor finish to a half in the contest. St. John’s led the entire first half with Seton Hall tying the score on six different occasions. The Pirates finally broke through in the final minutes of the period on three-pointers by Sina and Gibbs to take a 40-35 advantage into the break.
“We know those two guys are able to shoot it,” Harrison said of the team’s perimeter defense all game. “We just didn’t get to them on time.”
It was also seemingly the first time in months that the Red Storm didn’t get a big time game from Sir’Dominic Pointer. The senior forward has just four points and seven rebounds. Chris Obkepa tallied seven points and five boards. That led to Pirates Brandon Mobley and Angel Delgado combining for 26 points and 22 rebounds.
Their play and the lack of turnovers limited the Red Storm’s chance to score in transition.
“That was out biggest worry going into the game because they had been turning people over,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “I think we only had two turnovers that led to their baskets.”
St. John’s, which started 0-5 in conference play last year, knows it can’t dwell on this loss with more tough games up coming in a much-improved Big East.
“Top to bottom this league is dramatically different,” Lavin said. “I think the non-conference showed that. Today was another example.”