Red Storm drops 3rd straight at Holiday Festival

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Fans had been looking forward to Saturday’s St. John’s-North Carolina men’s basketball match-up since the two teams announced their inclusion in the annual Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.

What no one expected, however, was that the game would be for third place, as MAAC conference upstarts Manhattan and Iona stunned the Red Storm and Tar Heels, respectively, in the first round Friday.

A quick look at the numbers and it is easy to see why St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis seemed relatively pleased with his team’s performance against No. 22 North Carolina, which shot just 34 percent from the field and was outrebounded by the Red Storm 48-35, 22-10 on the offensive glass.

Still, St. John’s managed to lose its third straight game, falling 63-59. Despite taking 10 more shots, the Storm shot a woeful 28 percent from the field, turned the ball over 14 times and continued to struggle at the free throw line, going just 14-for-22 for 63.6 percent.

“There were times today that we didn’t finish, but basically played like a team,” Jarvis said. “I know we are going to be able to build upon today. There are a lot of things we will be able to take from this week. This will make us a very good basketball team.”

North Carolina (8-3) got a stellar outing from freshman Rashad McCants, who scored a game-high 21 points, while Jawad Williams added 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win. McCants sealed the win with two free throws in the final seconds.

Marcus Hatten led the Red Storm (5-3) with 19 points and 10 rebounds, but shot just 6-for-19 from the field. Against Manhattan the day before, Hatten was just 5-for-19 while scoring 11 points in the team’s 72-65 loss to the Jaspers. Elijah Ingram added 14 points and Willie Shaw scored 10 off the bench, the only points scored by nonstarters for the Johnnies.

Against the Tar Heels, St.John’s was close throughout but seldom held the upper hand. After St. John’s fell behind 8-2 following a slow start by both teams, Ingram buried back-to-back threes 30 seconds apart to give the Storm a 10-8 lead at the 10:58 mark of the first half. North Carolina responded with a 9-2 run to retake a lead.

And that was the basic flow of the game — St. John’s would pull close and North Carolina would go on a mini-run to put a little breathing room between the two. The Red Storm closed the gap just before the half, following a three by Shaw and a bucket by Anthony Glover (six points, seven rebounds), taking a short-lived 28-27 lead. But a three by Williams at the buzzer gave the Tar Heels a 32-29 advantage at the break.

Several times in the second half, St. John’s seemed on the verge of finally catching North Carolina for good, but every time the Tar Heels simply pulled away. Shaw hit a three at the 11:45 mark to pull SJU within one, sparking an 8-2 Tar Heels run over a span of just less than seven minutes.

Four straight points by Eric King (four points, seven rebounds) made the score 57-55 with 3:03 left in regulation, but St. John’s scored just one more field goal down the stretch, a running layup by Hatten with 6.6 seconds remaining and the game all but over.

“I told the team that the team that puts the disappointment of the night before behind them the quickest has a better chance of winning,” said North Carolina head coach Matt Doherty. “I was real proud of my team.”

Against Manhattan, which defeated St. John’s in the first round of last year’s Holiday Festival, St. John’s looked like it didn’t show up at all, especially defensively. The Jaspers shot 53 percent from the field, led by guard Luis Flores, who completely outdueled an admittedly indifferent Hatten, scoring a game-high 20 points to his counterpart’s 11.

“The emotions weren’t there,” Hatten said. “I was just going through the motions.”

Like it did against the Tar Heels, the Red Storm dominated the glass, holding a 42-26 edge overall and 22-10 on the offensive end. The team took 20 more shots, but shot an abysmal 14-for-26 from the charity stripe. Glover and King had 14 points apiece and combined for 18 rebounds. Kyle Cuffe added 12.

“I don’t know what that was,” Jarvis said after the loss to Manhattan.

Whatever it may have been, it was no fluke.

St. John’s will look to get back to its winning ways Thursday when its hosts the Niagara Purple Eagles at Alumni Hall. Tip-off is 7:30 p.m. The Red Storm will open the Big East season Saturday when the team takes on Seton Hall at noon at Madison Square Garden.

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

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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