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Red Storm’s season ends early after loss to Hall

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Omar Cook stared straight ahead with a pained look on his face before burying his head inside his jersey. At least for a few minutes Anthony Glover also found reality too tough to face, opting instead to hide his head inside his hands. Their season had just ended, swiftly and suddenly. And it came a couple weeks earlier than they expected.

For Cook, Glover and the rest of the St. John’s men’s basketball team, the first day of the Big East tournament was the last day of their season. A 78-66 loss to Seton Hall last Wednesday at Madison Square Garden was their lone taste of March Madness.

“This team or this season is part of the reason I coach, and I hope why they play. That is to learn and to grow,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis, who saw his team lose its fourth straight and sixth in seven games. “This was not a losing season, it was a learning season.”

But the reality is that it was indeed a losing season. The Red Storm finished with a 14-15 record, the team’s first sub .500 mark since 1996-97. The loss guaranteed that not only were St. John’s slim NCAA Tournament hopes dashed, but so were those for an National Invitational Tournament berth.

It also marked the first time in 25 years that a Mike Jarvis-coached team finished the year with a losing mark, including 16 years on the Division I level.

“We’ll go and get ready for next year,” Jarvis said. “I can promise you that this will be the last time that our season will end early.”

Next year, Jarvis said, is already here.

But a big reason why the 2000-01 season ended was St. John’s horrendous free throw shooting down the stretch. After poor free throw shooting in the Red Storm’s last two regular season games, the team’s struggles continued against Seton Hall. The Red Storm shot just 50 percent (17-for-34) from the line. The Pirates weren’t much better, knocking down just 53 percent (15-for-28) from the charity stripe. The two teams also combined for 42 turnovers in what was truly an ugly game.

“Maybe next year we won’t practice free throw shooting. That might help because we have never spent as much time on free throw shooting as we have this year,” Jarvis said.

While the point guard matchup between New York City high school rivals Cook and Andre Barrett in the season’s lone meeting between St. John’s and Seton Hall was supposed to be the premier matchup, the difference in the game proved to be the Pirates’ post players.

Six-foot-11 sophomore Samuel Dalembert and 6-foot-9 Big East Freshman of the Year Eddie Griffin imposed their will, blocking and altering shots early and often. The duo combined for 12 blocks, one shy of a Big East Tournament record.

“They block shots so well and then when you lean and you go at them and you don’t get the calls, it’s really depressing,” said Cook, who scored 14 points, but shot 4-for-13 from the field. “Then if you go straight up, they’re going to block your shot. There was nothing else we could do.”

St. John’s was forced to rely on perimeter shooting, but as was the case so often down the stretch, their shots just weren’t dropping. The Red Storm shot just 21.4 percent (3-for-14) from beyond the arc. Freshman Willie Shaw, who had such a promising start to his collegiate career, finished with just five points.

While St. John’s didn’t have an answer for the Pirates’ defense, Seton Hall (15-13) found numerous ways to score. Early on it was Dalembert who owned the paint as the St. John’s killer scored all 10 of his points in the first 20 minutes. When Dalembert and the versatile Griffin (15 points, 12 rebounds) weren’t scoring at will from inside, it was junior Darius Lane (17 points) and back-up point guard Ty Shine (22 points) who buried the shots from the perimeter.

If not for the play of Glover, the Red Storm might have been out of the game by halftime. After the Pirates went on a 16-2 run to take a 28-19 lead, Seton Hall extended its lead to 12, 34-22, with 2:16 left. But Glover answered with seven straight points in the final 50 seconds of the half, including the first three-pointer of his career to cut the Red Storm’s deficit to 36-31 at the break. But the Red Storm were never truly dangerous in the second half as the Pirates cruised to the quarterfinal win.

“Forget youth, forget the inexperience, if we would have had just one more player who can score to complement Omar, who can drive to the basket, that’s all we needed,” said Jarvis. “Hopefully next year we will have that player.”

Jarvis appeared to be alluding to Marcus Hatten, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard at Tallahassee Community College — the same school that former Red Storm star Bootsy Thornton went to — who is considered to be the best JUCO shooting guard available and who is one of St. John’s top recruiting priorities.

Yes, next year is here already. Sooner than many expected.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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