In a game where the Red Storm were six point underdogs, against a well-structured opponent, the Red Storm gave a valiant effort but fell, 73-66, in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Phil Greene IV's late three-pointers brought the Red Storm to within three.
And a strong defensive effort on an inbound play by Greene - forcing a ball off of Byron Wesley in the corner - gave the Johnnies the ball with the team down three points. The Red Storm got the ball to D`Angelo Harrison at the top of the key - but he was called for a push off with his left hand, a turnover that ended the Red Storm's realistic chances.
The Red Storm had chances to win the game. And being close to a good team should be lauded. But the loss is a loss, and St. John's falls to 4-1 on the season, while the Bulldogs slink away with a 6-0 record.
Byron Wesley (10 points) carried the Gonzaga Bulldogs late, who struggled with St. John's defensive energy; talented big man Domatas Sabonis led the Zags with 13 points off the bench, and added ten rebounds.
St. John's was led by Phil Greene IV's 20 points, with Rysheed Jordan adding 18 points and four steals. D`Angelo Harrison added 15.
[Box score | Game thread]
Gonzaga had a balanced first half, but St. John's, despite foul trouble and wild play by Rysheed Jordan and others on offense, kept within striking distance, only down five points at the half.
And in the first five minutes of the second half, St. John's found themselves three points down to the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Madison Square Garden, holding their own despite some poor shooting overall.
But after a made shot by Greene with 15:48 left in the second period, St. John's didn't get back on defense with good balance - leaving Gary Bell Jr. (13 points) available for a drive to the rim.
Chris Obekpa, the stalwart big man who changes the Red Storm defense but had three fouls, decided to contest Bell's shot and drew his fourth foul.
With Obekpa on the bench, the Bulldogs scored nine straight points to balloon their lead.
Still, St. John's made it a game, but the Bulldogs kept grinding. Domatas Sabonis drove off of a screen and drew a foul in the paint against Obekpa for Obekpa's fifth foul with 6:40 left.
Still, St. John's made it a game, forcing three turnovers and finding driving shots against the Zags zone.
Still, the Gonzaga lead was enough to hang on to late at night in the Garden for the Gonzaga championship.
The Red Storm did some solid work against a very good opponent, playing mostly a full game with energy. Sir`Dominic Pointer worked in the middle of the zone at times with Obekpa in foul trouble. Pointer added nine rebounds and was effective as a wing/ center.
St. John's faces former Johnnies assistant Chris Casey and his Niagara Purple Eagles at 7:00 PM on Tuesday night.
- The Bulldogs' size advantage did not turn out to be the deciding factor; the ability to hit 62% inside against St. JOhn's defense was negated by 4/14 three-point shooting and 15/25 at the free throw line by Gonzaga. The Zags went 3/7 in the second half from beyond the arc.
- St. John's couldn't take advantage of Gonzaga being sometimes slow afoot; they shot 14/23 from the free throw line and committed 14 turnovers.
- Nine of those turnovers were by Rysheed Jordan, who alternated between strong attack play and head-scratching/ over-aggressive moves.
- Chris Obekpa (one point, four rebounds, three blocks) fouled out, along with Rysheed Jordan and Dom Pointer.