With two road games on the horizon, St. John’s found themselves in a position Thursday night where a win against Seton Hall was an absolute necessity if they had any chance of turning this season around and making some kind of run in the next five weeks.
The Red Storm, who used big runs all game to build a big lead in the second half, fended off a last ditch effort from Seton Hall to win its first conference game of the season, a 77-76 decision at Carnesecca Arena.
The win ended a nine-game conference losing streaking dating back to the Johnnies’ last season in the old Big East. St. John’s (11-8, 1-5) will now travel to Indiana to play Butler Saturday afternoon.
The final 32 seconds of this game dragged as Seton Hall nearly pulled out a win.
With St. John’s leading 76-70, Seton Hall scored three quick points in five seconds. D’Angelo Harrison had a chance to potentially ice the game, but missed two free throws. That set in motion a turn of events that almost cost the Red Storm a win.
St. John’s fouled Sterling Gibbs and sent him to the line and make the Pirates earn their points and avoid any 3-point plays. Gibbs made one of two free throws to cut St. John’s lead to 76-74.
Rysheed Jordan was double teamed when he received the ensuing inbounds pass, but bounced the ball off a Seton Hall player to maintain possession. Jordan eventually got open and was fouled. He too only converted one of two free throws to make it 77-74 with nine seconds left.
St. John’s again fouled Gibbs, and he converted both free throws. That’s when things got really weird.
Sir’Dominic Pointer couldn’t find anyone open on the ensuing inbounds pass and launched the ball down the court where Orlando Sanchez purposely hit it out of bounds under his own basket. That ensured Seton Hall would need to go the length of the court for a game-winner.
The Pirates never got the ball past midcourt as Pointer knocked the ball of out Fuquan Edwin’s hand just as he got to the line.
Got all that?
"It shouldn't have come down to that," Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard said after the game. "We can’t turn the ball over 19 times."
Fifteen of those turnovers came in the first half as St. John’s turned an early 13-3 deficit into a 35-29 halftime lead.
Sanchez’s versatility was on full display as St. John’s mounted a comeback. He hit three straight 3-pointers, and then drove through the lane for an easy layup after a shot fake from beyond the arc in the first seven minutes of the half. He finished with 16 points.
JaKaar Sampson played Thursday night like he did in his rookie campaign and also scored 16 points despite five turnovers. He had an emphatic putback dunk off a Harrison miss in the second half that came during another big run for the Johnnies.
St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin wasn’t happy with the fact his team let the Pirates back into this game after it seemed in hand on multiple occasions.
"I really wasn't pleased with our defense tonight," he said "It’s funny. We lost four games where we played our best defense and won our worst defensive game"
Harrison also scored 16 points.
The turnovers doomed Seton Hall in the first half. The Pirates actually shot 50% in the first 20 minutes and were outrebounding the Johnnies. Gene Teague was a non-factor in the middle and finished with seven points. He looked uncomfortable at times guarding Sanchez as the St. John’s big man likes to spread the floor, making him a difficult assignment.
Brian Oliver led Seton Hall with 19 points, including 5-for-11 from beyond the arc.
St. John’s played most of the game with an intensity and focus they rarely showed during conference play. They were sharp and took smart shots most of the game. Jamal Branch did a great job off the bench and finished with 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting.
Jordan finished with six assists. Harrison finished with a team-high six rebounds.
Both teams shot over 50% from the field. St. John's finished at 50.9% while Seton Hall shot 52.1%
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- From the Time Machine: St. John's vs. Seton Hall
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- Analysis: St. John's defensive struggles + lineup consistency