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Cook carries St. John’s over UConn, 60-55

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Despite shooting 0-for-5 from three-point range in the first half, St. John’s freshman point guard Omar Cook did not shy away from pulling the trigger in crunch time, hitting three crucial treys down the stretch to lead the Red Storm over the University of Connecticut Huskies, 60-55, Tuesday night in a game with major postseason implications at Madison Square Garden.

Cook’s first made three came with 12:10 remaining in the second half. The shot, from the top of the key, pulled St. John’s within one, 39-38, after the team relinquished a two-point halftime advantage. His second, at 7:53, finally gave the lead back to St. John’s for the first time in 10 minutes.

The Huskies would never lead again.

“It came down to confidence,” said the Christ the King alum. “At the end of the game I just kept shooting.”

Head coach Mike Jarvis praised the play of his point guard, despite a stat sheet that belied his strong second-half performance.

“I guess it’s not about stats on paper,” Jarvis said. “It’s about the guys on the court. Even on a night when you shoot 3-for-15 you can go out and play harder than the other team. What the stats won’t shows is that the threes he made were big and they opened up driving and assist opportunities.”

Cook finished with a game-high 17 points to go along with nine assists, but it was far from a perfect performance. Cook was 7-for-21 from the field, 3-of-15 from behind the arc, and turned the ball over four times.

In part it was the defense the Johnnies displayed down the stretch, led by Cook and back-up Sharif Fordham that kept UConn from coming back.

With the game tied at 54 with 1:36 remaining following a goaltending call on Donald Emanuel, Cook made a great driving dish to the junior big man from Texas, who converted the slam dunk with 1:13 remaining to give SJU the lead.

On the ensuing UConn possession, Albert Mouring was stripped clean by Anthony Glover, setting up a layup by Cook to extend the lead to four with 24 seconds remaining. After Tony Robertson hit 1-of-2 free throws, Emanuel missed a chance to ice the game, missing the front end of a 1-and-1 opportunity.

Connecticut came back down-court and worked the ball to Caron Butler — whose desperation three against St. John’s earlier this season forced overtime in a game the Huskies eventually won. But Butler could not get free with Fordham draped all over him.

Fordham dished to Mouring, who was then stripped by Cook. Cook lofted the ball to a wide open Reggie Jessie who laid the ball in with 0.3 remaining.

“It was just a great win for us,” Jarvis said. “As usual, this Connecticut team never, ever quits.”

The game started very slowly for both teams before a nearly packed house that included former President Bill Clinton. The Red Storm trailed 13-4 through more than six minutes of play and didn’t seem to find their stride until the 12-minute mark, going on a 16-5 run in which six different players scored.

The Huskies eventually regrouped and trailed by two at the half, 29-27.

Cook was the only played to finish in double figures for St. John’s, as Alpha Bangura, Emanuel and Jessie all finished with eight apiece. For Emanuel, it was his first start of the season, replacing freshman Mohamed Diakite, who saw 13 minutes of action off the bench.

Butler and Mouring led UConn with 14 each, while Edmund Saunders added 12. Lefrak City native and St. John’s Prep alum Taliek Brown finished with four assist, three steals, two rebounds, but did not score.

The win improves St. John’s to 12-7, 6-2 in the Big East, while UConn lost its fifth straight to fell to 13-7 and 2-5 in conference play. Next up for St. John’s are trips to Providence Saturday and Notre Dame Tuesday.

Virginia Tech 65, St. John’s 59. The Red Storm were upset Saturday by the Hokies, who were led by Bryant Matthews’ 12 points and Danny Gathings’ 11. St. John’s had four players in double figures, led by Bangura’s 17, Cook with 12, Glover with 11 and Kyle Cuffe with 10.

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

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