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St. John’s Squanders First Half Lead, Falls to Creighton 81-78

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The Red Storm that has struggled in close games all year struggled again in a one-possession loss

Chris Hagan

St. John’s fades in the second half and drops its second game to Creighton, 81-78.

With optimism swelling after winning the last two against Xavier and Butler, the Red Storm seemed poised to have a shot at playing their way out of the first round of the Big East Tournament. However, the optimism likely turns back to despair after the close game version of the Johnnies reared its head.

This game marked the return of Rafael Pinzon, who had been sidelined since the December 18 game against Pitt.

The first 12 minutes of the game were underwhelming by the Red Storm. The Johnnies missed the first 6 attempts from beyond the arc and Creighton was able to take advantage to the tune of a 9-point lead with just over eight minutes to play.

Soon thereafter, O'mar Stanley came in and completely altered the energy on the floor and in Carnesecca Arena. Stanley threw down a pair of dunks and hit a jumper, all in a two-minute span, to get the Johnnies back into the game.

Unfortunately, three fouls in five minutes for the freshman big man kept him from contributing further.

Thereafter, Montez Mathis picked up the slack by pouring in 11 points over the final five minutes of the half wherein St. John’s went on a 17-4 run. Mathis finished the half with 13 points off of 5 of 6 from the floor and 1 of 2 from deep to go along with a pair of assists.

The energy in the building propelled St. John’s to a lead with just under five minutes left in the half — a lead which they held going into the half, up 46-39.

After the half, St. John’s came out flat. The Johnnies were running offense for Julian Champagnie, but the junior wing frequently looked distracted as if he was carrying the weight of the world every time the team was on offense. Champagnie finished the half with 3 points (1/9 FG).

Chris Hagan

Approaching the U4 timeout, St. John’s trailed by 4, and appeared destined for another heartbreaker. Esahia Nyiwe, not known for his jump shooting despite his clean-looking stroke, knocked down a three before Mathis added another bucket at the rim to regain the lead for the Johnnies.

Creighton’s Arthur Kaluma and Ryan Hawkins each scored on layups leaving St. John’s down 3 with less than a minute to play. Given the Red Storm’s season-long struggle in close games, the contest felt over at this point.

Dylan Addae-Wusu responded with a layup, and the Red Storm then sent Creighton’s Trey Alexander to the free throw line in order to get the ball back. Alexander clanged the front end of the one-and-one off the back of the rim.

With the ball down by only 1 and just under 18 seconds to play, St. John’s had another chance to pick up a key win.

Montez Mathis had a chance on a runner, but could not convert at the basket. The Bluejays’ Ryan Kalkbrenner was fouled, knocked down a pair of free throws putting St. John’s further behind.

Chris Hagan

St. John’s had the ball again with five seconds to play, but this time only with the possibility to send the game to overtime. Addae-Wusu threw the ball out of bounds on the inbound attempt, and the Johnnies lose another close one, 81-78.

St. John’s Red Storm

Montez Mathis: 15 points (6/12 FG, 1/3 3PT), 2 rebounds, 2 assists

Omar Stanley: 14 points (7/8 FG), 3 rebounds

Stef Smith: 13 points (5/6 FG, 2/3 3PT), 2 assists

Creighton Bluejays

Ryan Hawkins: 25 points (10/18 FG, 4/10 3PT), 12 rebounds, 2 assists

Ryan Kalkbrenner: 19 points (8/13 FG), 7 rebounds, 1 assists