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A New York State of Mind

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St. John's embarrassed North Carolina State 63-45, to win its first Holiday Festival title since 1996 and beat a ranked team for the first time since March 2, 2003, when Marcus Hatten's free throws at the end of regulation lifted the Red Storm over then-No. 6 Duke. All of a sudden, the Big East conference schedule that starts at home vs. Syracuse in a game slated for Wednesday night, doesn't seem quite as daunting for St. John's, which has won three straight games for the first time since the 2002-03 season."This is the best experience I ever had at the school," said sophomore point guard Daryll Hill, who had 19 points and was named Holiday Festival MVP. "I think that if we keep playing the way we're playing they'll be many more to come."On the last Thursday night at Madison Square Garden in 2004, St. John's was once again the Kings of New York, that gritty city team that passionately defended its home court and gave teams around the country nightmares when they walked into the arena."The Holiday Festival is St. John's tournament. We should play well here. We should expect to win here," St. John's coach Norm Roberts said. "That's the way it's been for a long time."St. John's (5-3) dominated from the outset, scoring the first 8 points and humiliating NC State (10-2) along the way. Hill recovered his own inbound pass that he threw off the back of Jordan Collins, and then spun twice before sticking a jumper over Tony Bethel. Lawrence did the same in the second half. Tyler Jones dunked the ball off an inbound and Ryan Williams sent in an alley-oop dunk.The Red Storm led 27-10 at the half despite starting forward Lamont Hamilton's sitting most of the half with two early fouls. It was the lowest combined point total for St. John's in the first half since Jan. 14, 1992, when St. John's led Miami, 14-12 en route to a 45-42 win at Miami Arena."Our objective was to hit them first in the first five minutes opposed to them hitting us first," said St. John's freshman guard Eugene Lawrence, who had 10 points and 7 rebounds and was named to the All-tournament team. He started in place of Rodney Epperson, who is suspended indefinitely while St. John's reviews his academic transcripts from Barton County Community College, a junior college in Wichita, Kan. he attended in 2002-03.NC State, which shot 3-of-23 from the field in the first half, missed its first 12 shots of the second half and trailed 39-12 before Cedric Simmons ended the drought with 13:05 left in the second half. It was the worst loss for NC State in nearly a year, when the Wolfpack lost 76-57 at No. 2 Duke Jan. 15, 2004.Guarded by Hill, Hodge, the former St. Raymond's star and last year's ACC Player of the Year, missed his first nine shots from the field and picked up a technical foul when he and Cedric Jackson got entangled late in the first half. The Harlem native ended with 19 points."Today I would think as a whole, this was the worst game I've been in since coming here to NC State," Hodge said. "We lost to a bad team. Ninety-nine out of a 100 times we would have beat them, but tonight was their night."Added Hill: "I came in the game and I wasn't worried about offense I was just trying to stop Julius and try and get him uncomfortable with my speed and try and get him frustrated."Hodge scored 9 straight points to bring NC State to within 44-23 with 10:13 left. But after Roberts called a timeout, Lawrence hit Hill with a long inbound pass and scored an easy layup."We were horrible. You saw it. What can I say?," NC State coach Herb Sendek said. "If I knew why we played that way I would be more than happy to tell you."Despite being undersized, the Red Storm had a 48-40 advantage on the boards with Lawrence, Jackson and Hamilton all grabbing 7 rebounds each and Ryan Williams came off the bench to grab 6 boards. St. John's also seemed to grab every loose ball in a stunning win that surprised just about everyone except Williams."I wasn't surprised at all because if you act surprised then they're going to come at you," said the former Cardozo star, who celebrated the final week of 2004 with a pair of wins at the Holiday Festival and the birth of his second child. "This is how St. John's should play."Roberts knows that the shock factor will soon wear off for the Red Storm."We won't sneak up on anybody. They'll point back and say, 'hey, they beat NC State in the Holiday Festival," he said. "But we just have to come and bring it everyday and be unselfish and just try and get better."No Big East tourney for Johnnies. The Big East made it official on Monday, announcing the Red Storm will not compete in the Big East tournament this year after St. John's banned itself from postseason play as part of self-imposed penalties following the Abe Keita scandal.Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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