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St. John’s fall to UConn drops to No. 3 seed

"We wanted to win this game, there is no if ands or buts about it," said St. John's head coach Dave Masur. "We're very disappointed that we didn't."

It appeared St. John's (11-1-3, 6-0-3) might have dropped all the way down to the fourth seed for the Big East tournament, which starts with quarterfinal play this weekend, as Rutgers led Virginia Tech 2-1 late in the second half Tuesday night.

A Scarlet Knights win would have propelled them to second in the conference and, with Notre Dame winning a tiebreak against St. John's, the Fighting Irish would have been the No. 3 seed.

But the Hokies rallied to win the game in overtime, thereby solidifying the Red Storm's No. 3 seed. St. John's, ranked No. 6 in the country, will host No. 6 Boston College (10-6, 6-4) in the Big East quarterfinals Sunday at 11:30 a.m. at Hota Field in Franklin Square, L.I.

Because of the Big East's rotating 10-game schedule, this will be the first meeting between the two schools this year.

"It would have been nice to get the No. 1 seed and get to play No. 8, but it doesn't really matter because No. 8 is as good as No. 1 this year," said St. John's senior midfielder Jeff Matteo. "The key is to get one of the top four seeds to get home field."

While the Red Storm wrapped up a home quarterfinal game Saturday with a 2-1 win over West Virginia, Matteo was particularly upset after dropping the 2-1 decision to No. 8 ranked UConn. In his four years, St. John's hasn't beaten the Huskies. In fact, UConn is 4-0-1 against the Red Storm since Ray Reid became the Huskies head coach five years ago.

"We haven't beaten them yet and we played as well as we could have here," Matteo said. "They did well in the second half to defend. We had good possession and great opportunities, but we couldn't get off point blank shots."

Connecticut (13-3-2, 9-1-0) jumped ahead 1-0 in the 11th minute when the Huskies capitalized on a blocked clearance by the Red Storm defense. Damani Ralph recovered the bouncing ball at the top of the box and beat Red Storm keeper Guy Hertz low inside the near post for his team-leading 10th goal of the year.

"That was my typical goal, around the box," Ralph said. "I got an opportunity and made good out of it."

The Red Storm, using their 16th different lineup in as many games, answered back seven minutes later when Matteo slotted the ball to Simone Salinno in the top right of the box. The freshman from Lucera, Italy took on three defenders, found space and appeared to catch UConn keeper and Big East Goalkeeper of the Week Bryheem Hancock off guard with his low left-footed shot from 16 yards out inside the near post to tie the score at 1.

It looked like the game would remain tied heading into halftime, but UConn converted a controversial free kick from 22-yards out as Anthony Curtis curled the ball around the Red Storm's five-man wall and inside the near post to give the Huskies a 2-1 lead. Although it appeared UConn's Michael Mordocco dived, referee Ivan Ivahnenko called the foul resulting in Curtis' second straight game-winning goal with 2:17 left in the half.

Despite dominating the second half and moving Shalrie Joseph back up front from defense, as Matia Damiani returned to the back line for the first time since Sept. 29, the Red Storm could not net the equalizer, as UConn played as many as nine men behind the ball for much of the half.

"I thought we were on our heels in the second half," Reid said. "St. John's is a very good team, the most difficult team we played all year. Now we have to get ready for [Virginia Tech in the quarterfinals Sunday] because if we lost that we have a two-week layoff [before the NCAA tournament]."

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

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