In the papers: moral victory, or not?

John Alber

A big game means big press coverage. The Rumble gathers most of the main sources below.

Given a second chance at a top-25 foe (Wisconsin being the first), St. John's showed a little better than they did in South Dakota, putting together great stretches of basketball.

But for this team, moral victories are no victory. What the media, opponents and team say about the 68-63 Madison Square Garden loss to Syracuse:

Rumble in the Garden // St. John's vs. Syracuse final score: Johnnies rally, but fall short, 68-63, in Garden clash

St. John's (6-3) gave a valiant effort at Madison Square Garden on Sunday before falling, 68-63, to #2 Syracuse (10-0). After trailing by 12 points at halftime, the Red Storm found themselves in the lead in the final minutes of the second half. But it wasn't enough.

Red Storm Sports // Johnnies Erase 14-Point Deficit But Ultimately Fall To No. 2/3 Syracuse, 68-63

"Syracuse played well for 24 minutes and we only played well for 16. I thought in the first half we were tentative. We were not aggressive or effective in any aspect of play," said Lavin. "In the second half we played well enough to rally from behind, but in the last four minutes, Syracuse got good looks at the basket and we did not execute well enough on offense to win."

Ed. note: The Johnnies are a good second half team - but Lavin is talking about how the first half counts. Rallying from behind against every good opponent is tough to maintain.

The Torch // Johnnies come close, but can’t pull upset vs. ‘Cuse

The Red Storm (6-3) recovered from a first half where they fell behind by as many as 14 points to grab their first lead with 8:25 remaining. The contest remained neck-and-neck until it all started to unravel with less than four minutes left when costly turnovers and missed free throws from junior guard D’Angelo Harrison and sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson sealed the victory for the Orange (9-0).

"That’s going to kill me," Sampson said referring to his trip to the line. "I’ve been thinking about that since I missed it. Those two I felt was a big part of the game. Me missing two big free throws, I felt like it turned the momentum."

Ed note: did JaKarr's miss turn the momentum? Or was it the team's overall play?

Wall Street Journal // St. John's Fights Hard, Falls to Syracuse in Battle for New York

There is no trophy awarded for being New York's best college-basketball team. But for St. John's, the stakes on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden were clear. It was an opportunity to measure up against Syracuse, the No. 2-ranked team in the country.

For nearly 36 minutes, the Red Storm matched the Orange point for point, but with the game tied at 60 with 4:11 left, Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis knifed through the lane for a layup to put the Orange up by two.

The "No Moral Victories" section

NY Daily News // St. John’s puts scare into Syracuse, but Red Storm fall short against C.J. Fair and Tyler Ennis-led Orange

The time for excuses should be over...

Lavin wants his players to see that were it not for another poor first half — this time he said they were tentative "like a deer in the headlights"— they could win big and beat elite teams regularly. So he applied a little public pressure. Asked if a game like this should be encouraging, he replied, "They’re not encouraged. We came in expecting to win the game and we’re disappointed we didn’t win. This is our home court."

ESPN NY // St. John's self-destructs against Syracuse - Colleges Blog

It's certainly not the first time this team has come out sluggish. This has been a pattern throughout the young season.

Lavin was as perplexed as the rest of us. "I couldn't understand how they could be paralyzed or stymied or tentative," he said, "because this is as good as it gets -- being at Madison Square Garden, playing on national TV, a Sunday, packed house, the energy was palpable."

"I told them, I don't even recognize you," Lavin added. "It's like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers' -- who are you guys? I recruited all of you the last three-plus years, what's going on?"

Ed. note: props to the head coach for calling them out... but early energy has been a problem all season for the Johnnies.

The "It Was Kind Of A Moral Victory" section

NY Times // St. John’s Finds Hope in a Loss to Syracuse

The last five minutes cooled those fantasies, a swift relapse to what has lately been the norm. Syracuse beat St. John’s, 68-63, its ninth straight win in meetings between the two teams. The Orange (10-0) hit shots down the stretch; St. John’s (6-3) did not. They took care of the ball; St. John’s flubbed its late opportunities.

But the potential and promise of this St. John’s team were unmistakable, in this city where the Knicks and the Nets have thus far only disappointed. In a quiet moment outside his team’s locker room Sunday, Coach Steve Lavin managed to look beyond his disappointment with the close loss.

"The signs of progress are there," Lavin said. "I’ve coached long enough to see where this team stacks up with other teams I’ve had, and the upside."

NY Post // St. John’s goes toe-to-toe with Syracuse in 68-63 loss

The Red Storm came out for the second half a different team, a poised, precise and aggressive unit that attacked at each end of the floor after Lavin implored his players to forget about making mistakes and find the aggression they typically play with.

The result was a 15-7 run to start the second half and St. John’s taking to the play to Syracuse, snaring its first lead on Harrison’s bank shot with 8:25 left. With Jordan running the show, living in the lane, and shutting down Ennis at the defensive end, and Harrison finding his shooting touch, the Johnnies were seemingly in good shape. They led 60-58, 5:48 remained and Orlando Sanchez was headed to the line.

Sanchez, however, missed the free throw — the first of four costly misses at the charity stripe the rest of the way — and St. John’s managed just three points over those fateful final five minutes, missing its final 10 shots and committing two turnovers.

NY Post // Loss leaves Johnnies wanting more — and poised to get it

St. John’s? Put it this way: you don’t turn 12 down to two up, with the ball, against No. 2 unless you have something to offer, too, and make no mistake, the Johnnies do. They have toughness, they have resilience, they spend most of their offensive possessions composing beautiful music with selfless play.

"We are New York City’s team," their coach, Steve Lavin, said, and although he was talking in the context of Syracuse’s boast the Orange are New York’s team, he could have been speaking about something else, something deeper, because the way the Johnnies play they really do embody the very best of what New York City thinks about itself as a basketball town.

...together they do tap into the city’s basketball heart. They will be a fun team to follow. There are plenty of wins on the Johnnies’ schedule, enough we should be talking about them well into March.

Ed note: we may touch on this next week, but just because the Red Storm don't have a marquee win doesn't mean they're in trouble for the NCAA Tournament. In a Big East that still looks parity-driven, avoiding bad losses and splitting with top teams should get them to a solid position come March.

Newsday // St. John's rallies against Syracuse but can't get upset win

Trailing No. 2 Syracuse by 12 at halftime Sunday at Madison Square Garden, St. John's had a choice. The Red Storm could accept a typical blowout loss to the Orange, or it could muster some courage, attack Jim Boeheim's signature 2-3 zone and maybe grow up a bit.

When freshman Rysheed Jordan was fouled beyond the arc and hit three foul shots to tie the score at 53, Red Storm fans had their answer and roared their approval.

St. John's eventually took a two-point lead with 5:48 left as the decibel level climbed, but the Red Storm faltered down the stretch in a 68-63 loss amid a flood of mixed emotions.

From the Syracuse side

Syracuse.com // Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis shines in Garden to lead Orange past St. John's

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse's precocious freshman point guard, took to the Madison Square Garden stage and delivered an incredible performance in his first game at the World's Most Famous Arena in Syracuse's 68-63 victory over St. John's on Sunday.

Ennis, a 6-foot-2 point guard, scored 21 points, dished out six assists and turned the ball over just two times in 39 minutes to guide the Orange past the Red Storm in front of 16,357 fans at the Garden.

Syracuse.com // Syracuse basketball defeats St. John's 68-63: Brent Axe rapid recap (updated)

Ennis was shaky in the second half but had two big free throws with 4:40 left. He finished a perfect 10-for-10 from the line. He also had a a key basket on a strong drive with 4:07 to go.

Ennis had his composure and confidence tested in the second half but made key plays when he had to. Watching him overcome that was another testament to a guard who plays beyond his years.

He also continues to impress in a key area: Turnovers. Ennis had just two against the Red Storm.

The Daily Orange // Cooney held scoreless by smothering St. John’s defense

"They did an unbelievable job on Trevor," Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. "He could not get a shot."

Cooney missed all of his shots in the game’s first 13 minutes. From that point on – no looks. Not one.

Assistant coach Gerry McNamara, who works closely with Cooney and the other SU guards, said St. John’s shielded Cooney. That meant a slow night for the sharpshooter, but it paved the way for big games from C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant and Tyler Ennis.

Ed note: did we miss any good articles? Post them below, though we are going to speak about a pair of Rysheed Jordan pieces later.

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