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St. John’s tops West Virginia, 72-53

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What a difference a few days makes.

Three days after being thoroughly pummeled by the Pittsburgh Panthers in their Big East opener, the St. John’s Red Storm rebounded Saturday to whip West Virginia, 72-53, at Madison Square Garden.

Freshman forward Eric King was the catalyst throughout the game, hustling and battling for rebounds and leading the Johnnies with 18 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor and a perfect 8-for-8 from the line in 22 minutes. King also grabbed 10 boards, seven on the offensive end.

“I just tried to go out and do what I do best, which is hit the glass,” said King, out of Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School. “Right now, yes, it’s important for me to start out aggressively.”

And King did just that, playing with a reckless abandon absent in previous efforts and turning in the best performance of his short collegiate career. That it helped St. John’s (10-3, 1-1) to its first conference win of the season was just icing on the cake.

King set the tone immediately in the first half, scoring the first four points of the game and six of the first nine for the Johnnies before a three by Donald Emanuel with 14:44 remaining before the half gave SJU a 12-6 lead.

The Mountaineers (7-5, 0-1) valiantly tried to hang with St. John’s throughout the first half, but every time the visiting club would get close, the Red Storm had an answer.

After Jonathan Haggert drained a three with 6:44 left to cut West Virginia’s deficit to three, 22-19, St. John’s went on a 13-4 run to end the half with Alpha Bangura, Willie Shaw, Abe Keita, Marcus Hatten, Emanuel and King all scoring during the stretch, as the team took a 35-22 lead into the locker room at the break.

St. John’s owned the offensive glass in the first half, pulling down 12 rebounds for 17 second-chance points in the first 20 minutes to West Virginia’s seven. The Johnnies also scored 14 points off Mountaineer turnovers.

“I thought we gave them too many second chances,” said West Virginia head coach Gale Catlett. “We didn’t block off the boards.”

The Red Storm quickly expanded their lead to 17 less than two minutes into the second half on two free throws by Anthony Glover to cap a 9-3 run.

West Virginia made its run midway through the quarter, going to a zone defense and cutting what had been an 18-point Red Storm lead to eight when Lionel Armstead nailed a three-pointer at 10:22. But that would be as close as the Mountaineers would get the rest of the way.

King responded with four straight points and Glover scored moments later to push the lead back to 14. Six free throws by King and Shaw and a three-pointer by Tristan Smith made the score 66-46 with 3:53 remaining in regulation.

In addition to King’s double-double, Hatten scored 17 points with five rebounds and three assists. Glover chipped in eight with five boards and Shaw added six with five rebounds. Mohammed Diakite continued to show improvement, scoring seven points with three rebounds in limited action.

Following Tuesday’s date with Miami, St. John’s hits the road to take on Providence Saturday at noon and Boston College Thursday at 7 p.m.

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

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