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Walk-ons praised for effort in loss to Boston College

Following the suspension or dismissal of six players, the St. John’s University men’s basketball team took the floor Sunday with a skeleton crew of eight — half of whom were walk-ons — to battle the Boston College Eagles before University President Rev. Donald Harrington, former St. John’s coaches Lou Carnesecca and Brian Mahoney and more than 7,000 fans at Madison Square Garden.

And despite losing the game 89-61, the team was treated warmly by the half-filled arena, including standing ovations for several of the players, most notably walk-on Phil Missere.

“I thought that we had tremendous, tremendous support today,” said interim head coach Kevin Clark. “I think we have eight good representatives here. I think what they showed today proves that.”

Missere, the cousin of former St. John’s player Robert Werdann, had played all of one minute all season prior to Sunday’s game in which he was awarded his first collegiate start and played 27 minutes, scoring 13 points on 4-of-6 shooting with five rebounds.

“Today was great, but I wish we could have got the win,” Missere said in the post-game news conference, which featured the entire eight-player roster eligible Sunday. “I’m just glad that we all played together and that we all gave our all and left it all out there on the court.”

With 4:37 remaining in regulation, Missere was whistled for a foul on BC’s Uka Agbai, the walk-on’s fifth and final foul. As he was greeted by his teammates at the bench, the Garden crowd rose to its feet and applauded the 6-foot-8 junior forward’s effort.

“I never thought that I would walk off the court to a standing ovation,” Missere said. “I’m glad to see the fans came out and gave us support and hope they keep supporting us for the rest of the season.”

Missere, along with fellow walk-ons Nygel Roach, Joe McDonald and Devin Mayo, accounted for 23 of the team’s 61 points and certainly endeared themselves to the Red Storm faithful who attended the contest.

But more than that, the team was downright competitive in the first half, trailing by just seven, 34-27, at the break and closing what had been an 11-point Boston College advantage down to two early in the second half.

“I’m extremely, extremely proud of the young men that I have before me today,” Clark said. “The effort that they brought into this game was tremendous.”

It was only a matter of time before Boston College (15-7, 4-5) finally woke up and put the undermanned Johnnies to bed, and that came about four minutes into the second half.

Leading 38-34 with just under 16 minutes to play, the Eagles went on a 22-6 run over the next eight minutes that put the game away.

But each walk-on scored in the defeat, led by Missere and followed by Mayo with five, McDonald with three and Roach with two. Collectively, the walk-ons were credited with just one turnover of the team’s 11.

Another player to see increased time was senior center Curtis Johnson, a product of former coach Mike Jarvis who has never developed into a full-time player. Johnson played 18 minutes with six rebounds, three steals and two points.

The SJU effort, however, was geared through the three regulars suiting up, Kyle Cuffe, Daryll Hill and Andre Stanley. Hill and Stanley both led with 16 points, Hill with four assists and four steals and Stanley with nine rebounds, three assists and three steals.

Of all the Red Storm members, Cuffe looked the most out-of-sync. Playing perhaps the worst game of his career, the senior out of Rice High School was an abysmal 1-for-10 from the field, including 0-for-3 from three-point range with a game-high seven turnovers. At one point during the second half, with the outcome already decided, a quick Hill pass bounced off the unsuspecting Cuffe’s head.

Still, Clark had nothing but praise for the scholarship players who were available to play.

“The leadership that we got from our older guys over the last couple of days in helping the walk-ons was just outstanding,” Clark said. “They should be extremely proud of themselves as well.”

“It was a great atmosphere,” Cuffe said. “To see the walk-ons come out and play with great energy and effort, even though we lost, I’m still happy. I’m proud that we have a good supporting cast.”

St. John’s was playing without Grady Reynolds, Elijah Ingram, Abe Keita, Mohammed Diakite, Lamont Hamilton and Tyler Jones. Reynolds was expelled, Ingram withdrew and Keita was suspended for a year this week following false allegations of rape levied at the trio by a woman identified as an Astoria resident after an incident following the team’s 71-51 loss to Pittsburgh Feb. 4.

Hamilton and Diakite were suspended indefinitely from the team, while Jones was held out of Sunday’s game and is likely to be in uniform for the Storm’s next game.

Following a game at West Virginia Wednesday, St. John’s (5-15, 0-9) hosts the Georgetown Hoyas Wednesday, Feb. 18, at Madison Square Garden.

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

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