The Red Storm's NCAA Tournament hopes look farther away after the second-half struggles in Madison Square Garden.
Both Pittsburgh and St. John's struggled early in the Madison Square Garden matinee. And with the Red Storm's NCAA Tournament hopes in need of a boost against the 20th (or 22nd) ranked Pittsburgh Panthers, it looked like St. John's had Jamie Dixon's team in position for an upset.
But the Garden floor couldn't overcome turnovers and poor shooting from star D`Angelo Harrison; and Pitt's stifling defense took over. Pittsburgh won, 63-47. The Panthers improve to 21-7, 9-6 in the Big East; the Red Storm fall to 16-11, 8-7 in the Big East. The Red Storm are off until next Saturday, when they take on the Providence Friars at 8:00 PM in Rhode Island.
Early on, it was evident that the Johnnies would have their hands full with Pittsburgh's size. Panthers freshman seven-footer Steven Adams (eight points, three rebounds, three blocks) made two field goals in the first two minutes.
Pitt got out to a quick 17-10 start, helped by ten points in the first 12 minutes from senior guard Tray Woodall.
After being down as many as seven, the Johnnies pulled within one at 24-23. To keep the Storm afloat, Phil Greene IV gave the Red Storm a nice offensive charge with nine first half points. St. John's struggled to find consistency from its other scorers before intermission.
Pittsburgh led St. John's, 30-27, at halftime. Despite shooting 36.7% (11-30) and at times having poor shot selection, the Johnnies were well within striking distance.
St. John's scored the first four points of the second frame, and grabbed its first lead (31-30). But Woodall once again started the half hot, scoring eight points in the first 3:14 of the half, allowing Pitt to regain a five-point lead.
The defensive pressure of Pittsburgh forced St. John's into ill-advised turnovers, cancelling the momentum that the Red Storm had built going into the locker room.
"We were kind of 'in the desert' offensively," coach Steve Lavin said. "There were things we could have done more effectively."
"Statistically there isn’t a huge difference in any category other than the 17 points off of our turnovers," he added. The Red Storm had nine turnovers in the second half, and struggled to find open looks, or get into their transition offense against the Pittsburgh defense.
Pitt held St. John's to 31% shooting, and 2/15 beyond the arc in the game. D`Angelo Harrison struggled with six points on 1/12 shooting; JaKarr Sampson led the team with 14 points and six rebounds. Phil Greene added 11 on 5/13 shooting.
"It's back to the drawing board," coach Steve Lavin said after the loss. "It's not going to be an easy game against a hot team in Providence."
Pitt was led by Brooklyn native Tray Woodall, who poured in 25 points on 8/14 shooting, including 8 to open the second half. Lamar Patterson added 11.
About midway through the first half, St. John's guard Jamal Branch entered the game for the first time since February 2nd when he injured his left knee against Georgetown. Branch missed four games while nursing an MCL sprain.
Chris Obekpa is now 7/8 from the free throw line in the month of February (87.5%); he is a 36% free throw shooter on the season.
St. John's will look to regroup before a Saturday night meeting with the surging Providence Friars next weekend.