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SJU embarrassed by Virginia Tech at Alumni Hall

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If things could get any worse it would be hard to fathom.

“Boos” cascaded down from the rafters three minutes into the second half and before everything was all said and done, the chant of “Fire Jarvis” emerged from the student section of Alumni Hall.

The St. John’s University men’s basketball team suffered the worst defeat of the season and the second worst in the history of Alumni Hall Saturday to the visiting Virginia Tech Hokies, 71-54. The loss all but dealt the team’s hopes of an at-large NCAA Tournament bid a death blow.

“I think we’re playing for much more than an NCAA berth,” said head coach Mike Jarvis immediately after the loss. “That is part of why you play. Unfortunately for some people, that’s the only reason you play. That comes when it comes, which is most of the time as a result of what you have done. The goal of this is to try and be the best that you can be.”

But The Red Storm was a far cry from that Saturday.

Playing their most uninspired basketball of the season — a few days after a bitter 84-82 loss to the Boston College Eagles — the St. John’s players sleepwalked throughout the wretched affair, allowing Tech to shoot 46 percent for the game while SJU shot a positively dismal 31.7 percent.

SJU has been considered a one-man team by many skeptics this season, and the team’s performance against the Hokies did little to alter that assessment.

Marcus Hatten was his typical whirling dervish, hitting both inside and out, diving for loose balls, dunking over opposing players — and teammates who weren’t up to the task — and at one point leaping clear over media row and into the front row of spectators to save a loose ball.

Hatten shot 10-for-24 for the game, having to hoist up 13 three-pointers — connecting on five — with his team perpetually behind in the second half. His 27 points led all scorers, and he was the only Red Storm member in double figures.

And Hatten did it all off the bench, where he sat for more than five minutes to start the game after arriving late at practice the day before.

“It’s a reality check,” Hatten said. “Everyone has to look within themselves and understand what they have to do and bring it to the team, bring it to the table and come with it the rest of these games.”

In total, St. John’s shot 20-for-63. Willie Shaw, Anthony Glover and Tristan Smith shot a combined 0-for-11 in 48 minutes, while no other team member managed more than two field goals. Point guard Elijah Ingram was 2-for-9 for the game — both three-pointers — for 6 points, while Abe Keita, who got the start in favor of Grady Reynolds, tied his career-high with 6 points.

“It’s painful to look at this sheet so I won’t,” Jarvis said, tossing the box score in disgust. “We have to find something real quick, play with a lot more enthusiasm, a lot more passion and a lot smarter, a lot tougher, a lot of everything. There’s not one ingredient. There’s probably about 10 or 15 that we’re going to have to find and put in the pot and stir it up to get back to our winning ways.

“The wheels someday will come off,” he added. “I’m not dead yet, my team’s not dead yet. Until we die, the wheels will be on.”

St. John’s led 9-8 before Hatten came into the game and led 15-14 with 10:50 to go in the first half after back-to-back threes by the senior.

Bryant Matthews (22 points, 9 rebounds) hit a three less than a minute later to give the lead back to Tech — and the Hokies never trailed again.

Carlos Dixon, Terry Taylor and Matthews all contributed down the stretch of the first half to push the lead to 12 before two more threes by Hatten cut the SJU deficit to nine, 35-26, at the break.

“I thought we came out very aggressively,” said Virginia Tech head coach. “I thought our zone was very effective. One of the things we wanted to do was rebound the basketball. We thought St. John’s really hurt us on the glass last time we had the opportunity to play.”

The Red Storm rallied in the second half — briefly — after a chorus of “boos” followed a Matthews alley-oop dunk at 17:21 to make the score 39-26. Slowly, SJU managed to get back into the game, mostly due to Hatten’s eventually wasted heroics.

A dunk off a missed three by Kyle Cuffe pulled St. John’s to within four midway through the period, and a three at 7:59 cut it to three, 49-46, bringing the fickle home crowd back, if just for a moment.

The rally ran out of steam down the stretch, as Tech pulled away, prompting another chant from the crowd directed at Jarvis.

“When people come to the game, what they see is a result that is everything leading up to the game,” Jarvis said. “Games many times are won and lost by what does and what does not happen in practice. What disappointed me most about today was we weren’t ready yesterday. Usually when kids are not ready the day before they are not ready the day of.”

“Practice has been up and down,” Glover said. “We need to push ourselves more during drills and pay more attention to what coach is saying. I don’t feel like we’re in trouble. Everybody on the team needs to focus on what coach is saying.”

After facing Villanova Tuesday, St. John’s will be back at Alumni Hall Saturday to face the Providence Friars at 2 p.m. The team will then travel to take on the Syracuse Orangemen Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 1-718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

Posted 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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