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Red Storm holds off Holy Cross in consolation

Entering its consolation game against Holy Cross Monday night at Madison Square Garden, two thoughts must have been running rampant in the minds of the St. John’s men’s basketball squad: Earning St. John’s interim coach Kevin Clark his first victory as a Division I coach and trying not to become the first team in n the 52-year history of the Holiday Festival to finish in fourth place in consecutive seasons.

The Johnnies (3-6) were successful in accomplishing both by pulling out a 64-61 victory over the Crusaders (4-6) and finishing in third place for the sixth time in school history.

“I’m just excited,” Clark said after his first win. “I’m extremely proud of our team tonight. Our seniors really stepped up and responded to some challenges that were put in front of them. I’m very, very happy tonight for them.”

Two of those upperclassmen were senior forwards Grady Reynolds and Kyle Cuffe, both of whom made big plays to seal the Storm victory.

“This win means a lot,” said Cuffe, who grabbed a career-high 13 rebounds to go along with his team-high 14 points. “After every loss you get frustrated and this kind of picks up our spirits a little bit. We wanted to end the year with a win and that’s what we did.”

The Red Storm once again played their hearts out, giving it their all for the third straight game since the firing of Mike Jarvis on Dec. 19.

But it was Holy Cross, which blew a big lead to Manhattan on Monday before losing 56-54, that came out on fire, scoring the first 10 points of the contest.

After not finding the bottom of the net for the first 3:30, the Red Storm found a way to claw their way back into the game, as they did in the second half against Pennsylvania a night earlier, scoring 33 of the next 56 points to tie the score at 33 apiece at halftime.

Grady Reynolds sealed the Storm victory with just under a minute remaining as he converted a three-point play and slammed home an alley-oop dunk, pushing the SJU lead to five at 62-57.

The Crusaders got one last shot, but John Hurley’s three-point attempt rimmed out as the final buzzer sounded.

“It wasn’t going in,” Clark said, when asked what went through his mind as the ball left Hurley’s hand. “It was a real deep one. My hat goes off to them. They are a well coached basketball team. They’re a very disciplined team and those kids played very, very hard.”

Pennsylvania 63, St. John’s 61. It took 50 minutes and double overtime for Pennsylvania to finally hold off St. John’s, 63-61, in the second semifinal of the Holiday Festival Sunday.

Jeff Schiffner, (17 points) whose three-pointer forced the game to a second- overtime period, hit a running jumper in the lane with 0.8 remaining to lift the Quakers (4-4) over the Red Storm (2-6).

After missing his first four three-point attempts, Elijah Ingram (seven points) converted from beyond the arc after St. John’s controlled the opening tip in the second overtime. SJU never scored again as Penn scored five unanswered points on the way to the win.

The Red Storm went 7:10 between their second and third field goals, as the Quakers took a commanding 28-18 halftime lead behind four three-pointers from Tim Begley (16 points).

The 18-point first half performance was the lowest output for SJU since Feb. 25, 2001, when the team scored 19 at Villanova, a span of 76 games.

The Red Storm caught fire in the final minutes, scoring 11 unanswered points to take a 49-48 lead. It was their first lead since the 15:35 mark of the first half when they led 4-3.

Reach contributing writer Joseph Manniello by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 130.

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