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SJU’s Big East showing enough for NCAA invite

The St. John’s Red Storm needed at least one win at the Big East Tournament last week to shore up their hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. They got that win against Seton Hall in the first round, but it wasn’t easy.

And to make matters worse, the Red Storm played downright awful down the stretch in a loss to Notre Dame the following day, throwing a wrench in the works of an NCAA bid that seemed all sewn up.

“I don’t think [we’re in the NCAA Tournament],” said senior Sharif Fordham after the Johnnies defeated Seton Hall, 64-58, on March 6. “I think we still have more to prove.”

St. John’s had the highest RPI and the most impressive strength of schedule of all the “bubble teams” in the Big East conference heading into the tournament, as well as having swept the team closest to them — Boston College — during the regular season.

When all those teams on the outside looking in fell in either the first or second rounds, St. John’s was virtually guaranteed to be the fifth Big East school to make the tournament, following Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Miami and Notre Dame.

Still, a hard-fought win over Seton Hall was necessary for St. John’s to make it to the dance, a game that saw St. John’s go more than nine minutes in the second half without scoring a point.

“I think we just had to stay with it,” said Marcus Hatten. “We had to stay focused, stay confident in ourselves even though we were missing close baskets.”

Hatten led the team with 16 points, followed by Anthony Glover with 14. The team shot a woeful 25 percent in the second half and 33.3 percent for the game, but turned 24 Seton Hall turnovers into 24 points and doubled up the Pirates 18-9 in second chance points.

With some thinking they needed to beat Notre Dame in the second round, St. john’s again came with less than a perfect performance, though they did hang around until the second half to make it interesting.

After trailing the Fighting Irish by 14 at the half, St. John’s cut it to five, 53-48 when Hatten drained a trey with 10:45 to go. But that was all the Storm had left. Notre Dame went on an 18-2 run over the next six minutes to put the game out of reach.

“We had a chance in the second half, but we made a lot of mistakes and it seemed like Notre Dame turned every one into baskets,” Jarvis said.

Hatten led the Red Storm with 25 points and was the only Red Storm player in double figures. The team shot 32.9 percent for the game, committed 19 turnovers and only got to the foul line nine times in 40 minutes compared to 24 for the Irish.

Despite some doubts by his players, Jarvis seemed confident his team would still make the NCAA Tournament after the game Feb. 7. And he would be proved to be correct.

“What I think doesn't really make a difference,” the coach said. “What we've done and accomplished is before the committee and they will decide. This won’t be our last game.”

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

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