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St. John’s drops season finale

The loss, which drops the Johnnies to an...

By Anthony Bosco

Allen Griffin scored 31 points, making 18-of-22 from the charity stripe as the Syracuse Orangemen held on for a 93-91 double-overtime win against the St. John’s Red Storm Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The loss, which drops the Johnnies to an even 14-14 on the year, seriously puts any post-season tournament hopes in jeopardy. To secure a spot in the National Invitational Tournament, St. John’s will have had to defeat Seton Hall Wednesday afternoon in the first round of the Big East Tournament.

The Red Storm made only 23 of 45 free throw attempts for an abysmal 51 percent, while Syracuse was 39-of-48 from the line, including 15-of-16 in the second overtime to secure the victory. St. John’s, which had rallied from 11 points down with just more than five minutes remaining in regulation, simply could not hit its free throws when the team needed it most.

“Who knows, maybe we’ll find the free throw line between now and Wednesday and keep the season alive,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. “I sure hope so because I think this team really deserves that. Normally, you can’t look at one line after a game … but you’re not going to win with missing 22 free throws and that’s part of the story of the game.”

A furious rally by St. John’s late in the second half forced the first overtime. Trailing 65-54 after Preston Shumpert nailed a three, the Red Storm responded with a 10-2 run, keyed by point guard Omar Cook and the superb inside play of freshman Kyle Cuffe and junior Anthony Glover, making the score 67-64.

Kueth Duany made 1-of-2 from the line with 1:18 remaining, but Willie Shaw nailed a three-pointer from the right wing while getting fouled. The freshman’s subsequent free throw tied the game with 38.6 remaining.

Both Shumpert and Cook missed potential game-winning shots in the final seconds, sending the game into the first overtime.

St. John’s established a four-point lead early in the first OT on baskets by Cook and Cuffe. But Syracuse battled back, led by Griffin’s superb play, scoring all eight of his team’s points in the extra session.

Sharif Fordham, who played an outstanding defensive game for St. John’s, missed all four of his free throw attempts in the first overtime, including two with 48.7 seconds remaining and St. John’s up by one. Allen made 1-of-2 with 31.8 to go, and neither team could convert down the stretch, forcing yet another overtime.

Syracuse was close to perfect in the second OT, taking a four-point lead on free throws by Allen and Shumpert. The Red Storm got as close as two on a Cook three with 37 seconds remaining, but 5-of-6 shooting from the line down the stretch by Duany and Allen sealed the win for the Orangemen.

“We just got up there and knocked them down,” Griffin said. “Today’s a great game to carry into the Big East tournament. It shows what we had to battle for and it shows heart.”

The heart-stopping finish was a fitting ending to a hard-fought basketball battle between two teams experiencing decisively different seasons. A win by Syracuse — coupled with a Georgetown loss — would have guaranteed the Orangemen a bye in the first round of the Big East Tournament and not have hurt the team’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament. A win by St. John’s would have, at the very least, guaranteed St. John’s a berth in the NIT and solidified a winning season for Jarvis, who has never coached a Division I team that has finished below .500.

St. John’s seemed to come out with a sense of urgency in the opening half, opening up a 14-7 lead, attacking the 2-3 zone employed by Syracuse with penetration as well as hitting some outside shots.

But the Orangemen steadily worked their way back into the game. Trailing 22-17, Syracuse scored five straight points to tie the game and, following Glover missing the front end of a 1-and-1, took the lead for the first time since trailing 6-4 on a Griffin three with 6:22 remaining.

Syracuse did just enough to keep the lead for the remainder of the first half, with Cook pulling St. John’s within three, 37-34, on a jumper at the buzzer.

St. John’s recaptured the lead when Shaw converted the old-fashioned three-point play at 15:32, 42-41, but Syracuse came right back. Behind Billy Celuck, Damone Brown and Shumpert, the Orangemen re-established command, opening up an 11-point lead with 5:26 remaining.

The Johnnies rallied to tie it, but thanks to some sharpshooting from the charity stripe Syracuse gutted out the win.

Griffin’s 31 was high for the game and Syracuse (22-7 overall, 10-6 Big East) also received 20 points apiece from Brown and Shumpert. St. John’s (8-8 Big East) was led by Shaw with 25, Cook with 22 points and eight assists, Glover with 18 and Cuffe with 15. Fordham added eight points and 11 rebounds.

All the team had left was the hope of a win Wednesday.

“I don’t think they are going to go into Wednesday’s game thinking about anything other than Wednesday’s game,” Jarvis said. “To me, this is just another example of the fact that they can beat anybody in this league.”

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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