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SJU finishes season with 3 straight wins

The St. John’s University men’s basketball team followed up its dramatic win over the Duke Blue Devils with back-to-back conference wins over Rutgers and Miami this past week to guarantee a spot in the NIT and head into the Big East Tournament on a three-game winning streak.

All in all it has been a startling turnaround for the Red Storm, which had suffered through a horrendous stretch, losing 6-of-7. But three straight wins and a first-round date against Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament Wednesday afternoon has fed the team with some much-needed optimism.

“I feel great,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. “It’s a new season, it’s a new day. If you don’t feel good going into your conference tournament, you shouldn’t be there.”

Against Rutgers (12-15, 4-11) last Thursday, Marcus Hatten put on a show in his final regular season home appearance for St. John’s, scoring a career-high 44 points on 16-of-26 shooting from the field and 8-of-9 from the line. Hatten also grabbed eight rebounds.

St. John’s (15-12, 7-9) was never in jeopardy of losing the game, thanks to a nine-minute stretch in the second half in which Hatten poured in 22 points to help push the Storm’s lead to 26.

Willie Shaw added 14 points in 28 minutes off the bench and was the only other St. John’s player in double figures. Grady Reynolds chipped in 8 points, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks, while Kyle Cuffe grabbed 9 boards.

Rutgers was led by Jerome Coleman and Ricky Shields with 11 points apiece.

The Red Storm won its third straight Saturday night in Miami with a 76-73 victory over the Hurricanes. Hatten was again the high man with 27 points, eclipsing Allen Iverson as the all-time leading scorer in Big East Conference games, finishing his 32-game career averaging 23 points per game.

Freshman point guard Elijah Ingram also had a stellar day for the Storm, scoring a career-high 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Reynolds led the team with 7 rebounds.

Shaw, who was suffering from a sprained ankle, did not play in Saturday’s game.

While St. John’s dominated Rutgers, it could never completely pull away from Miami (11-16, 4-12).

A Hatten three with 3:21 remaining in the first half gave St. John’s a 28-19 lead, but threes by James Jones and Robert Hite allowed the Hurricanes to pull within six at the half, 33-37.

Early in the second half St. John’s made a push to blow out Miami, jumping out to a 15-point lead when Hatten hit two threes and Ingram added another at the 14:53 mark to make the score 51-46.

The Hurricanes, however, made a strong push late in the game as Darius Rice, who had been hampered by a hand injury most of the first half, came alive over the final 14:07 to almost single-handedly bring his team back.

Rice, who finished with 26 points, hit a three with 10.6 remaining and Hatten missed the front end of a one-and-one moments later to give Miami a chance to tie the game in the final moments. But Anthony Glover and Hatten both blocked shots during the frenzied final seconds to preserve the Red Storm’s third straight win.

“They got a couple of very dangerous players,” Jarvis said of Miami. “You got to give them credit for playing well. The bottom line is we won the game.”

St. John's 83, Notre Dame 80. The Red Storm shocked the No. 17-ranked Fighting Irish of Notre Dame Wednesday afternoon to advance to the second round of the Big East Tournament.

Despite a poor start by Hatten, St. John's started hot, as Shaw connected on three threes and Ingram added two. Kyle Cuffe also got off to a fast start, leading all scorers with 11 points at the break.

The Storm was up by 21 at halftime, 47-26, but Notre Dame rallied behind Torin Francis, Dan Miller and Matt Carroll to get within two with just second left to play. Francis missed two free throws with 10.6 remaining and a desperation three by Carroll at the buzzer missed the mark.

Hatten led St. John's with 18 points and 9 rebounds, Ingram added 17, Cuffe had 13, Shaw scored 12 and Glover finished with 11.

The Red Storm (15-14) advanced to play Boston College in the second round Thursday at noon.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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