It was their final chance to steal a game on their "home court" and survive another day.
Instead, St. John's was defeated by the Marquette Golden Eagles, 101 to 93, after coming back down 17 points in the first round of the Big East Conference Tournament on Wednesday night at the Garden. The Red Storm ended one of their worst seasons in program history with a loss and showed digression in the last couple of weeks, but this was an incredible effort by a team that had nothing to play for.
Christian Jones, who has played the best basketball of his career the past few outings, scored a career high 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting. He was aggressive attacking the basket, showed off his mid-range jumper and battled both Marquette bigs successfully in the interior.
Malik Ellison added 10 points while Durand Johnson, Ron Mvouika and Felix Balamou combined for 24 points. Yankuba Sima scored zero points and grabbed two rebounds and Kassoum Yakwe, who didn't have much of an impact, put up seven points and blocked one shot. Federico Mussini added 15 points.
In the opening half, the Johnnies came out of the gates playing inspired basketball as they were tied with the Golden Eagles, 11-11, at the first media timeout and rallied from 12 points down thanks to Jones. The junior forward scored 14 first half points on 7-of-11 shooting in the first half, but the Johnnies wasted that production with 11 first half turnovers and 13 personal fouls that sent Marquette to the free throw line often.
The Johnnies actually shot 53 percent from the field and 57 percent from downtown in the opening 20 minutes. They got good shots but Ellison picked up three quick fouls, Sima and Yakwe combined for three points, and the passing was often not crisp enough.
Also, the Johnnies defense was poor as they gave up 50 first half (they trailed by 12 at the break) and let the Golden Eagles finish too many easy looks around the rim. If the Golden Eagles didn't finish at the hoop, they were sent to the free throw line where they out-scored the Red Storm by 12.
In the second half, the Johnnies continued to look lost defensively. They had no answer for Henry Ellenson (27 points and 14 rebounds), Jajuan Johnson (23 points) and Haanif Cheatham (19 points) and let the Golden Eagles increase their lead to 17 with 12 minutes remaining.
They didn't go away though. Similar to the game between these two teams earlier in the season at Carnesecca Arena, the Red Storm made a monster comeback, taking the lead with less than three and a half minutes remaining. Jones continued to play out of his mind, Mussini started knocking down shots, Ellison was finishing at the rim and Johnson was hitting long contested threes. Most importantly, Mullin's unit had just three turnovers in the second frame.
But in the end, the Johnnies couldn't shake their inexperience and couldn't shake the free throw shooting contest that Marquette won.
St. John's shot 54 percent from the field overall, 50 percent from downtown while the Golden Eagles shot 56 percent, 50 percent from downtown and 88 percent from the free throw line (38-of-43).
Chris Mullin and company (8-24, 1-17) will now look forward to an offseason of development before welcoming Shamorie Ponds, Marcus LoVett, Tariq Owens, Richard Freudenberg and Bashir Ahmed to the program.