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Closing games is becoming a problem for St. John’s

The Red Storm have either crawled across the finish line or flatlined in tight games

Chris Hagan

In the most famous scene in the 1992 cult classic film “Glengarry Glen Ross”, Blake, a top real estate salesman played by Alec Baldwin, lectures his fellow brokers by stressing a vital tenet of the business: “Always be closing.”

This mantra is applicable in other contexts, like finishing off opponents in the rugged Big East conference, but that hasn’t set in for this St. John’s men’s basketball team. A troubling trend is emerging in late-game situations where the Red Storm’s offense goes AWOL.

In December, they blew a 10-point second-half lead to Boston College in a “neutral” site game and gave up 86 points to the Eagles in a stunning loss.

Their lack of killer instinct is becoming more pronounced in Big East play when games are closer and more competitive. Against UConn in December, Glenn Taylor’s three put St. John’s ahead with a two-point lead with 4:15 left in the second half. Still, the Johnnies would only make one more basket from the field until the end of the game, allowing UConn to come away victorious thanks to free throws and clutch layups.

Controversial no-calls in the final minute against St. John’s drew tons of attention in their narrow one-point loss to Creighton. But lost in the drama is how the Red Storm also blew a 9-point second-half lead to Creighton and had a golden opportunity to pull ahead late. Despite holding the Bluejays to zero field goals over the final 4:46 of play, the Red Storm were left off the scoring column entirely for the final 2:02.

The latest installment of this anthology of offensive anemia came in yesterday’s game against Marquette. After holding a 10-point lead in the first half, the Red Storm squandered it and allowed Marquette to enjoy a 26-9 run at one point to give the Golden Eagles a 71-58 lead. Momentum was flipped on its head when St. John’s went on a 14-2 run and held Marquette without a basket for the final 6 minutes and 20 seconds. They still could not finish the job, even after Marquette blessed them with four straight missed free throws. Missed threes by Chris Ledlum and Daniss Jenkins, plus a missed free throw by Jenkins that could have tied the game and at least send it to overtime, doomed a second-half rally.

Even in hard-fought wins, they prevailed despite their offensive impotence. In their third game of the season against North Texas, St. John’s promptly conceded the lead while the Mean Green went on a 14-2 run after the Red Storm led 49-38 with about six minutes remaining in the contest. The Red Storm didn’t score another field goal in the final 3:38, with two free throws by Joel Soriano with 1:11 remaining and stout defense barely nudging St. John’s ahead of North Texas for good.

In a 75-73 win over Providence, St. John’s blew a 15-point first-half lead and nearly squandered a 9-point lead in the second half. They failed to score a basket in the final 2:39 and went 3-of-8 from the free throw line in the final minute, giving the Friars a chance to win on the last shot.

What makes their offensive ineffectiveness all the more frustrating is how great their defense has been in clutch moments to give them a chance to put the game away. But when the chips are down, they cannot make the clutch basket. Rick Pitino brought several players into this St. John’s program because of their shotmaking talent, but he has yet to find his ace in the hole when the Red Storm need a last-gasp bucket.

That player may emerge over the remaining dozen conference games, but St. John’s will need whoever that player could be to reveal himself soon, or else they will continue to find themselves behind the eight ball late in games.