A three game winning streak at home was no match for road woes, Pitt's size, some hot shooting, and an injury, as St. John's fell to Jamie Dixon's Pittsburgh Panthers 89-69, despite Phil Greene's career high 18 points and 7 assists.
The Red Storm chose to wear the black uniforms - a kit that St. John's has a 1-7 record in - and found bad luck early, if you believe in basketball luck. Moe Harkless injured his right ankle six and a half minutes into the game, and went to the locker room.
Harkless came back to help the short-staffed squad, but he wasn't the same high-impact forward on offense afterwards. St. John's couldn't find Harkless - he had 1 field goal on the night and finished with 4 points in 22 minutes - and spent much of the second half on the bench.
But the final score wasn't just about Harkless' absence. In fact, he made plays on traps, helping the defense and grabbed 3 rebounds. The entire St. John's defense struggled to contain Pittsburgh's shooting, keyed by Lamar Patterson (13 points, 7 assists), who tore through the Johnnies in the first half.
Pitt started the second half shooting 9/10 from the field, 5/5 from the free throw line, and 3/3 from beyond the arc to scorch the Red Storm with 26 games to balloon the lead. St. John's was down as much as 23 points to Pitt in the second half, despite Greene's career high (more on that below) and a sharp second half from God`sgift Achiuwa (17 points, 4 rebounds).
Pittsburgh improves to to 16-14, 5-12 in the Big East, with a game at Connecticut to conclude their regular season. St. John's falls to 13-17, 6-11 in the Big East, and travel to Rutgers for their regular season finale before the Big East Tournament. Takeaways and positives, after the jump.
Despite some uncharacteristically blazing shooting by the Pittsburgh Panthers and an injury to Moe Harkless, St. John's was in the game at the end of the first half, only down 5, 38-33. The Johnnies shot 50% inside the arc and 4/7 from the perimeter, and looked like they were ready to put on an efficient performance, despite 8 turnovers. D`Angelo Harrison had 13 of his 21 points and was cooking on offense, while God`sgift Achiuwa was willing to bang in the paint.
But Pitt was even more efficient, having shot 69% inside the arc and 45.5% outside. In the second half, they turned up the shooting, starting 5/5 from the field and never looking back at a defenseless Red Storm. On the night, St. John's allowed 75% shooting inside the arc (21/28), 21 free throw attempts, 12 offensive rebounds (to their 9 defensive boards) and 20 assists.
For Pittsburgh, their seniors' last home game was a nice win. The Panthers turned the ball over in ridiculous ways - losing their grip, dribbling into triple teams, passing the ball to their bench. St. John's "forced" them into mistakes on a quarter of their possessions. But when they got the ball in scoring position, the Panthers scored.
Phil Greene's shooting/ scoring is coming along nicely. Greene's role in the future will be as a backup combo guard, a player who can ignite the team with some scoring and the occasional pass. For stretches, St. John's fans saw what could be with Greene. His career high came from confident jump shots off of the dribble under duress.
He looked a bit like Chicago guard Dion Dixon from Cincinnati - not necessarily driving to draw fouls, taking tough shots, and quick off of the dribble. It's a great fit for a slashing team, as long as that kind of play doesn't take up too many possessions. In the second half, Greene had a few possessions where he seemed to only be looking to score, and as a point guard, he has to make sure others get involved before sitting down to serve himself some buckets.
But with the game drifting away and the Johnnies unable to score, one can see why he would be so aggressive with the shot.
God`sgift Achiuwa was active. Achiuwa had 13 in the second half, running the floor well and making his driving moves across the lane. He looked like a bit of an impact player, though only had 4 rebounds.
When St. John's doesn't disrupt, it gets ugly. St. John's couldn't make the Pitt shooters uncomfortable. Despite Pitt's turnovers, they were able to move the ball at will in the half court. And St. John's didn't have the height and positioning to stop the scoring at the basket... or bother the Panther shooters.
It may have been just a hot night for Pitt, feeding off of the emotions of the season's last home game (barring NIT participation). But Pittsburgh got a lot of the jump shots they wanted, and capitalized. St. John's wasn't able to maintain control of the game without Moe Harkless to lead the interior attack.
And this is part of the learning process. How will the Johnnies play without their Moe? How will Phil Greene learn to bleed clock and get others involved, even when he's having a hot night?