By Joseph Staszewski

The chance for St. John’s to build off its first Big East win was washed away in a wild final 58 seconds.

The Red Storm men’s basketball team rallied from a 19-point deficit in the first half to grab a three-point lead with less than a minute to go before Seton Hall escaped with a 62-61 win at Madison Square Garden Sunday. Pirates guard Isaiah Whitehead drained two free throws with 5.8 seconds left and St. John’s forward Yankuba Sima was striped on the final possession.

“I thought in my mind we played well enough to win,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. “It was a game we probably deserved to win, but we didn’t, so it will sting and it hurts.”

A put back by Kassoum Yakwe (16 points, 15 rebounds) put St. John’s up 60-57 with 58 seconds left to play and brought a roar from the crowd of 13,204.

Khadeen Carrington (12 points) answered with a jumper. Whitehead, who scored eight of his 10 points at the free throw line, went 3-for-4 in the last 18 seconds to help Seton Hall (19-7, 9-5) keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.

The final two where after Durand Johnson, who had nine points, missed his second shot from the charity stripe. Whitehead came away with ball in the paint and was fouled with five seconds remaining. Mullin didn’t say a foul should have been called before that, but that Yakwe didn’t just give up the rebound.

“I thought Kassoum had the ball and he doesn’t lose the ball by himself,” he said.

His club, which beat DePaul on Feb. 17, continues to fight despite losing 17 of its last 18 games. St. John’s (8-20, 1-14) trailed 13-0 and 29-8 in the first half, but was down a manageable 36-22 at the break. The teams got into it a bit in the handshake line.

Seton Hall’s Desi Rodriguez scored 19 of his 24 points in the first half. St. John’s opened the second half with an 8-0 run and tightened up defensively. Yakwe and Sima combined for seven of the team’s 10 blocks.

“Even though we were down we didn’t get in to each other,” Yakwe said. “We stayed focused and tried to follow what our coaches said. We kept playing hard and when you play hard, you see the results.”

A poster jam by Felix Balamou (nine points) on Rashed Anthony powered a 13-3 run that put SJU down just 50-49 with 7:17 to go after threes from Federico Mussini and Ron Mvouika.

St. John’s eventually tied the score at 52-52 on Yakwe’s three-point play. The Red Storm missed a chance to grab full control. Malik Ellison split a pair of free throws after a flagrant foul by Michael Nzei and SJU turned the ball over on the next possession.

It took its first lead at 55-54 on a Sima hoop with 3:45 left in the game, but the Red Storm turned the ball over 21 times and shot just 10 of 24 from the free-throw line.

“It’s not the last free throw,” Mullin said. “They all matter.”

His team dug itself out of the hole, but couldn’t scratch and claw its way to a victory,

The beginning was bad, but we kept together and got back in the game,” Yakwe said. “It was a good game, but we had a lot of turnovers and missed free throws. At the end, they got a win.”

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