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Late second-half comeback fizzles out as St. John’s loses heartbreaker to Marquette

The Johnnies continue to come up short against the upper echelon of the Big East

Chris Hagan

Trailing by 13 points with 6:20 left in the second half, St. John’s faced an uphill battle against a Marquette team that caught fire in the second stanza. Then, the Red Storm made the climb. Clutch jumpers, second-chance points, offensive glass cleaning, and tons of defensive pressure tilted the game close to equilibrium. It was a two-point game with 1:35 left. For once, an ultra-rare comeback for the Johnnies felt palpable. St. John’s just needed one shot.

Daniss Jenkins, who spearheaded the Red Storm’s fervent comeback attempt, drew a shooting foul on Stevie Mitchell and had the opportunity to tie the game with two free throws. He went to the line and made the first free throw.

Yet, he missed the second. David Joplin came down with the rebound and drew a foul despite R.J. Luis visibly stripping him of the ball as he came down.

In a “ball don’t lie” moment, Joplin missed the front end of the one-and-ones, and Luis rebounded the ball to give the Red Storm another chance to take the lead. The Johnnies ran their offense, the seas parted, and wide open in the right corner was Chris Ledlum. The 6-foot-6 bruiser, who already enjoyed a gritty 13 points and 11 rebound performance, could put an exclamation point on this game and stamp his signature moment in a St. John’s uniform.

Yet, he missed the open jumper. A quick foul sent 93% free throw shooter Tyler Kolek to the line to put Marquette up three, who miraculously missed two straight free throws earlier in the game. St. John’s was blessed with another Marquette error when Kolek bricked the front end. Joel Soriano seized on the loose ball and called a timeout to give St. John’s 4.3 seconds to pull ahead finally.

Out of the timeout, the Johnnies zigged and zagged down the court. Joel Soriano picked up the ball at halfcourt and swung it to Daniss Jenkins from above the right break. Jenkins rose and got the shot off in time.

And yet, he hit the front of the rim and missed as the buzzer wailed.

St. John’s held Marquette without a field goal for 6 minutes and 20 seconds. It was still not enough, as they fell short by a score of 73-72, in an ending that is all too familiar for the star-crossed program.

The Red Storm had their chances of coming away with their first ranked win of the season. In the first half, Zuby Ejiofor and R.J. Luis blitzed the Marquette rim protectors to give the Red Storm a 34-24 lead at one point, which would later shrink to a smaller 34-28 deficit at halftime. Their controlled play came despite missing Jordan Dingle with illness and losing Nahiem Alleyne to an ankle injury. That six-point halftime lead could have been larger if St. John’s did not cough up an unsightly 11 turnovers before the break.

Marquette seized control after the half, bullying the Red Storm to the tune of 45 second-half points. The Golden Eagles, who went 0-for-11 from three in the first half, exploded by going 6-of-9 from deep. Before the Red Storm’s comeback attempt, they gave up a 26-9 run to Marquette, as the offense went arctic at a very inopportune time.

The Red Storm could let all of the hypotheticals run in their head: What if we could sink those late free throws? What if Ledlum or Jenkins made one of those threes? What play could we have drawn up if the refs didn’t call a foul on Luis and ruled it a clean steal under the basket?

Hypotheticals be damned, the reality is St. John’s is now 12-7 overall and have lost three straight games to fall to 4-4 in the Big East. In their three losses to the upper echelon of the Big East conference, UConn, Creighton, and Marquette, the Red Storm’s total margin of defeat from those three games was six points. Results that say St. John’s is a good basketball team; they are just not good enough.