Late in the afternoon in Brooklyn, after a lackluster opening game to the Barclays Classic, St. John's took on a surging Penn State team with a chance to prove that the middling results and close wins of recent weeks were an aberration - a function of experimentation and a lack of concentration rather than insight into the team's flaws.
Saddled with a 15-point deficit, the Red Storm played inspired ball to give themselves a chance to win. But a missed free throw and some late errors cost the game. Penn State gets a signature win, 89-82, and St. John's moves on to a consolation game against Georgia Tech tomorrow at 2:00 PM in the Barclays Center.
The game was tight early, with the Red Storm unable to slow down the Penn State shooting, but able to shoot well enough to keep pace. Penn State's D.J. Newbill (25 points) was scorching hot, and helped balloon the lead to 15.
But St. John's, playing in front of a fairly friendly crowd, brought out defensive pressure and kept up their hot shooting.
St. John's unleashed the shooter Max Hooper, second on the team with 15 points, who kept them within striking distance at the end of the first half.
St. John's dominated the boards.
Still, the offensive show seemed destined to end much like the Wisconsin game - a loss that saw the Red Storm put a bunch of points up from behind.
The Red Storm, inexplicably, worked the game back behind a microwave performance from Phil Greene IV (14 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists) and got even with a tough jumper by D`Angelo Harrison (20 points on 7/19 shooting, 6 rebounds), and sent the automatic Harrison to the line to hit the tying and winning free throws.
The first free throw missed. The second free throw hit, and the two teams - the inspired Red Storm and the gassed Nittany Lions - went to overtime.
In overtime, after a pair of made Chris Obekpa free throws, the Johnnies proceeded to turn the ball over, lose Sir`Dominic Pointer to his fifth foul, and miss five of their next seven shots. Still, the game was within one point... and then Max Hooper, on the floor for his shooting, committed a flagrant foul, sending Penn State to the line for two shots and then giving them the ball back, per the rules.
It was a tough way to lose a game that could have been the best game of the season - filled with energy and inspired shooting. Instead, the Penn State game becomes a serious question mark on the Red Storm's resume; the Nittany Lions aren't likely to be a top-half Big Ten team, and this kind of loss can hurt a Red Storm team that will likely be shuffling on the bubble in March, waiting to get their dance card punched.
Tim Frazier scored 29 for Penn State and added six assists, leading the Nittany Lions in both categories. Brandon Taylor and Ross Travis added 9 total rebounds and 10 points each. Chris Obekpa had 6 points, 13 rebounds, and 7 blocks. JaKarr Sampson chipped in 9 points on 4/12 shooting.
Credit due to a Penn State team that has a strength - shooting - and stuck with it. Credit to St. John's once again showing second-half ability. And credit to Lavin for playing Max Hooper to start the second half, in search of scoring.
Maybe this game won't be a big deal.
Maybe the team will dust themselves off and crush Georgia Tech tomorrow afternoon.
But this was a winnable game, undone by poor perimeter defense in the first half (and possibly undisciplined play, according to fans at the game and the radio announcers). Penn State shot 50% both inside and outside the arc in the first half; they shot 33% inside outside the arc in the second. The Johnnies' inability to score inside (9/24) in the second half, and Harrison's missed free throw, spoiled a great second half comeback.
Are you down on the Johnnies NCAA chances after this game? Or was this an aberration?
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