Behind a 27-5 run, the Johnnies overcame a 23-point deficit to come up just short, losing 60-58.
St. John’s had not played since since December 22, and the rust showed. LJ Figueroa, who is talented enough to overcome a team-wide rusty night, picked up two foul relatively early. Coach Anderson, who had played Figueroa with two fouls on more than one occasion this season, was burned for doing so for the first time when LJ picked up his third foul.
Another cliche about three point shooting is that teams that can shoot themselves out of a game can shoot themselves right back into it. In the first half, St. John’s shot themselves out of it. The Johnnies were 6 of 27 from the field, with five of the makes off layups, and 0 of 10 from deep. While it was in and of itself a poor shooting night, part of the poor shooting was self-inflicted by poor shot selection and the taking of contested mid-range jumpers off the dribble.
While Kamar Baldwin (14 points, 5/9 FG, 4/7 3PT) led the way in scoring for Butler, Bryce Nze was the X-factor for the Bulldogs in the first half. Nze and Sean McDermott each grabbed 6 boards to finish defensive possessions for the Bulldogs. Offensively, Bryce dished out 4 assists to help Butler get easier looks at the hoop, and that’s not to mention his 5 points (1/3 FG) as well.
As a result of the Johnnies struggles on both ends of the floor, the Red Storm went into the half down 37-16.
In order to come back in the second half, St. John’s needed Figueroa to have a monster half, collectively catch lightning in a bottle from beyond the arc, or have a defensive half like no other.
To start, LJ picked up his fourth foul four minutes into the second half, so the first option was effectively off the table.
As for the second option, the shooting from deep got better, and was good enough to help close the gap. The Johnnies shot a better 14 of 31 from the floor and 4 of 12 from deep, but St. John’s shooting was not what made this a game.
What prevented Butler from casually sauntering into the New Year with a win was the Johnnies defense bringing a hellish fury. Butler turned the ball over 16 times in the second half, while the Red Storm only turned the ball over once.
It was not just the turnovers that helped St. John’s close the gap. It was the Red Storm defense when it was not able to get the turnover, where the Johnnies helped the Bulldogs to a crummy 6 of 21 from the floor and 3 of 11 from deep when Butler did not turn over the ball.
Without Figueroa, without Heron, St. John’s turned to Nick Rutherford to lead the charge to close the gap. Rutherford finished with 13 second half points on 3 of 6 from the floor and 2 of 3 from deep to go along with 5 assists and 5 steals.
With 7:30 left in the game, David Caraher knocked down a three to tie it all back up at 46, erasing Butler former 23-point lead. Soon thereafter, Butler came back to life and both teams up a competitive second half.
Butler closed the game on a 7-0 run to close on the Johnnies’ new lead, and closed out the game with St. John’s losing, 60-58.
The Johnnies head to Cincinnati, Ohio to take on the Musketeers of Xavier on Sunday at 4:30.
St. John’s Red Storm
Nick Rutherford: 15 points (4/9 FG, 2/4 3PT), 2 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 turnovers
Rasheem Dunn: 12 points (4/13 FG, 0/5 3PT), 3 rebounds, 2 turnovers
Greg Williams, Jr.: 11 points (4/8 FG, 1/4 3PT), 1 rebounds, 4 assists
Kamar Baldwin: 19 points (7/13 FG, 5/8 3PT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 turnovers
Sean McDermott: 12 points (4/10 FG, 2/8 3PT), 10 rebounds