The St. Johns Red Storm seemed on the verge of folding up any hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth Sunday, falling behind Virginia Tech by nine in the first half with a listless and uninspired performance that seemingly had head coach Mike Jarvis at the end of his rope.
But as has been the case most of the season, the Red Storm (14-7, 5-5) found a way, rallying all the way back to win 72-63.
Down 30-21 with 3:00 remaining in the first half, St. Johns pulled within four, 32-28, at the break, spurred on by the most unlikely of players, sophomore center Curtis Johnson.
The 7-foot-3 Johnson, a Virginia native seeing his first action of the season following surgery in the off-season on both of his feet, connected on two free throws, grabbed a rebound and blocked a shot as St. Johns got within striking distance late in the first half.
That was a psychological lift for us, the catalyst for us in the second half, Jarvis said.
Tech got its nine-point lead back in the opening moments of the second half when Terry Taylor scored at 17:54, but thats when the Hokies dominance ended.
Donald Emanuel, who struggled from the field in the early going, buried a three-pointer and an Eric King slam pulled St. Johns within three, 40-37. The Red Storm retook the lead moments later when Kyle Cuffe scored on an entry pass from Emanuel from the wing, making the score 43-42. Marcus Hattens three-pointer a minute later pushed the lead to four.
King was a crucial performer for the Storm, pulling himself out of his own personal slump to score in double figures for the first time in five outings. King finished with 16 points and seven rebounds in 25 minutes following a tongue-lashing from Jarvis before the game.
He was to the point and I appreciate that, King said of Jarvis one-on-one speech in which the coach told his freshman forward to start playing up to potential or get ready to sit. Its confidence, fire and motivation.
Another key contributor was Andre Stanley, a junior walk-on making his second consecutive start at the two-guard slot in favor of Willie Shaw, who has struggled with injury all season. Stanley played 34 minutes, had nine points, six rebounds, three assists and two steals.
But as usual, the Red Storms success was dependent upon the play of Hatten down the stretch. The junior point guard who continues to play out of position out of necessity finished with a game-high 19 points with five rebounds and three assists. Hatten scored nine points in the final 3:04 when the outcome was still in doubt.
Virginia Tech had lost 18 straight conference games heading into Sundays matchup dating back to the teams 65-59 win over the Red Storm last season. The Hokies, led by Brian Chase, Joe Hamilton and Carlton Carver, threatened, at least for a while, to hand St. Johns another upset defeat.
Virginia Tech (6-15, 0-9) took its first lead at 10:40 of the first half when Taylor connected on the inside to make the score 12-11. A three-point play by Taylor at 5:54 pushed the lead to four, 21-17, and Chase extended it to six seconds later.
Chase scored the teams next seven points to push the lead to nine before the Storms mini-run to end the half pulled the club within four.
St. Johns will look to build on its win Wednesday against Fairfield before hosting the University of Connecticut Huskies at Madison Square Garden Saturday at 7 p.m. The Huskies edged the Red Storm, 75-70, Jan. 23. The Red Storm will follow with a trip to take on the top-10 ranked University of Miami Hurricanes Wednesday.
St. John's 95, Fairfield 56. The Red Storm won its second straight Wednesday night, defeating Fairfield behind a career-high 20 points from junior Donald Emanuel. The 6-foot-8 center hit 5-of-7 from three-point range and grabbed five rebounds. Anthony Glover added 18 points and six rebounds, followed by Sharif Fordham with 17 points and six boards. Kyle Cuffe added 11 points off the bench, Eric King scored 10 and Marcus Hatten had 10 assists, seven points and four steals. Walk-on Andre Stanley again got the start, scoring eight with five steals, and Curtis Johnson played nine minutes with two points and four blocks.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.
©2002 Community News Group
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