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St. John’s holds on to beat #16 Arizona, 70-67

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After a hot start, the Johnnies had just enough to keep the lead at the end

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Arizona Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

St. John’s transition game got them out to an early lead, and that lead paired with just enough at the end held off the late charge by the Arizona Wildcats, 70-67.

The next team on Arizona’s schedule is the Sun Devils of Arizona State. Unfortunately for Arizona, they experienced a different kind of hell from St. John’s tonight that the Sun Devils won’t provide.

In a game where the Johnnies opened as 11.5 point dogs, the Johnnies came out forcing turnovers and asking questions later. For most of the first half, the Wildcats looked uncomfortable with the pressure and coughed up the ball 10 times prior to the break, despite only averaging fewer than 12 per game coming into tonight. The Johnnies converted those 10 turnovers into 12 point, which was the difference in the first half.

LJ Figueroa led the way for the Red Storm, both on the break and as the best option in the half court. Figueroa finished the half with 16 points on 6 of 13 from the floor and 2 of 4 from deep to go along with 3 board and 2 steals.

What kept Arizona in the game was the production of Zeke Nnaji. Nnaji had 11 points on 4 of 5 from the floor, while the rest of the Wildcats were a combined 5 of 19 from the field.

Behind the efforts of Figueroa and the Johnnies defense, the Red Storm went into the half up 40-26 over the Wildcats.

The second half did not start as well as the first half for the Johnnies, as they opened the half on a chilly 1 for 8 from the field.

It got better for the Red Storm, but better just meant slowing the bleeding for the Johnnies rather than expanding the lead. From about the 10-minute mark, Arizona started sustainably chipping away at the Red Storm lead.

Offensively, the Red Storm only made seven baskets in the second half, and after only missing one free throw in the first half, the Johnnies finished the game 26 of 33 from the free throw line.

Defensively, the Johnnies fouled. A lot. Josh Roberts fouled out with less than four minutes remaining, and Earlington did so with just over three-minutes remaining. Nick Rutherford played nearly the final seven minutes with four fouls. Possibly most important of the issues defensively, the Johnnies struggled to contain Nico Mannion.

After Nnaji kept Arizona competitive in the first half, Mannion helped the Wildcats close the gap. Mannion finished the game with 19 points (6/15 FG, 1/5 3PT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals.

With about 90 seconds remaining, the Wildcats took their first lead of the game, and the outcome of the contest came down to late game execution. Rutherford converted a lay up to regain the lead for the Johnnies, but after a Nico Mannion missed jumper, Josh Green grabbed an offensive board giving Arizona the final shot with St. John’s up only 1.

Mannion missed another jumper and St. John’s nearly gave up another offensive rebound. However, Greg Williams, Jr. grabbed the board, got the ball to Julian Champagnie, and Champagnie casually knocked down a couple free throws to seal the win for the Johnnies, 70-67.

The Johnnies fly back to Carnesecca to celebrate New Years Eve with the Butler Bulldogs at 7:30.

St. John’s Red Storm

LJ Figueroa: 21 points (8/20 FG, 2/6 3PT), 3 rebounds, 1 turnover

Rasheem Dunn: 14 points (3/11 FG, 0/1 3PT), 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 turnovers

Nick Rutherford: 8 points (3/5 FG), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers

Arizona Wildcats

Zeke Nnaji: 24 points (8/10 FG), 13 rebounds, 2 turnovers

Nico Mannion: 19 points (6/15 FG, 1/5 3PT), 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers

Notable Bill Walton Quotes

“Yes, Mustapha Heron is not playing. He’s out with Chris Mullin somewhere.”

“Were you ever in a prison ship off the shore of London?”

“It was an intergalactic broadcast on the Grateful Dead Network.”

“Obviously? I don’t get this word, ‘obviously.’”

“What does ‘LJ’ stand for? Long Jumper?”

“The Chris Mullin game that he didn’t even bother to show up for.”

“Will you please light yourself up?”

“Will you please be there when Mike Anderson goes into the hall of fame?”

“Thunder on the mountain, crashing in. Kaboom!”

“Heavens, no. Why should we leave Chris Mullin alone?”

“I can’t shoot. My hands don’t work.”

“If my body still worked, I’d still be playing.”

“If you play for Mike Anderson, you know you’re in better shape than the other team.”

“I’ve never been more proud of the Red Storm.”

“He loves Mozart, and so do I.”