By Joseph Staszewski
The St. John’s seniors spoke all season about getting a taste of the NCAA tournament.
They earned that, but a postseason victory in their final season escaped them again.
The Johnnies fell 76-64 to the Aztecs in the opening round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament in Charlotte last Friday. The defeat ends the careers for seniors D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene IV and Jamal Branch. St. John’s was making its first tournament appearance since 2011 and has not won any tournament game since it took down Northern Iowa in 2000.
“It comes to an end after a great run with this great group of kids,” said St. John’s coach Steve Lavin, who is in his fifth season. “I wish we could take it further, but San Diego State played really well and we were short-handed and they deserve to move through the brackets and we’re proud of what we did.”
Pointer led St. John’s with 21 points and 10 rebounds and Harrison, who fouled out late in the second half, added 18 points. Rysheed Jordan chipped in 10 points. He played just two minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
The Red Storm (21-12) played without junior center Chris Obekpa, who was suspended for violating team rules. His absence was noticeable. Harrison called it “tough” competing against a much bigger Aztecs’ team without him.
San Diego State (27-8) scorched the nets before the break. It hit seven three-pointers in the first half and made nine for the game with Red Storm looking to shut down the Aztecs’ advantage inside. Dwayne Polee II, who transferred from St. John’s after his freshman year, scored 15 points on five three-pointers. It helped San Diego State take an 40-33 lead into the half.
“We did what we can down low,” Harrison said. “You credit them, they’ve got some of the 50/50 balls and kicked out for three in the beginning. They got off to a hot start. They were shooting three, we were daring them to shoot and they were making them.”
The Red Storm tried to rally after the break, but ultimately had no answer for San Diego State forward J.J. O’Brien, who dropped in 18 points. St. John’s trailed by 14 early in the second half, but got as close as 60-53 on a Harrison layup with 7 minutes to play in the game. Turnovers and second chance points hurt the Johnnies and the rally fell short.
“It’s very tough but we just kept fighting through it,” Pointer said. “The team, we don’t let those turnovers affect us, we came out, we scratched it off and kept playing. We started to come back at the end but we didn’t have enough guys.”
St. John’s is 2-8 in the post season under Lavin. The seniors leave having returned the program to the NCAA Tournament, but have just an NIT victory to their credit in the playoffs. The Red Storm won eight times in 10 games before losing its final three this season.
“Like I said, we had a great year, successful year as a team, our seniors played our hearts out, everybody played our hearts out, that’s all we can ask for,” Pointer said.