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Another stormy ending for Johnnies

It can be attributed to poor coaching, inexperience or just having no grace under pressure. But any way it's looked at, a lack of execution at the end of games could be looked at as the ruination of the St. John's men's basketball team's season.

The Red Storm's late-game woes directly resulted in losses against Marist, Seton Hall, West Virginia and Providence. And now another defeat can be etched into that column.

Despite a DePaul second-half scoring drought that reached 6:21, St. John's was unable to muster any kind of clutch performance in a 52-48 loss at Madison Square Garden Saturday afternoon after coming back from a nine-point deficit.

"We came back hard," coach Norm Roberts said. "We just didn't finish it off."

And St. John's (11-13, 4-9 Big East) certainly should not have needed any added motivation for this game: DePaul (10-13, 3-9) is one of only four teams with a worse record than the Red Storm in the Big East. With the loss, the Johnnies have slipped down into 13th place in the conference standings - one place out of a Big East tournament berth.

"I feel like this is one of those games you're supposed to [win]," junior forward Lamont Hamilton said.

He's right. Even if St. John's was without leading scorer Daryll Hill (out for the season with a left knee injury) and freshman starter Anthony Mason Jr. (high left ankle sprain).

The reserves stepped in nicely - especially freshman guard Ricky Torres (12 points), who played possibly his best game of the season. He was the one who put the Red Storm in position to win late.

With his team down 47-41 with 1:10 left, Torres picked off a bad pass under the St. John's hoop and layed it in to cut the DePaul lead to four. The Demon Deacons turned it over and on the ensuing Red Storm possession, Torres drilled a high-arcing three to make it a 47-46 game with 40.2 seconds left.

But then - like so many times before - the Johnnies made gaffes that allowed the other team to take control. After two DePaul free throws, Lawrence cut the lead to 49-48 and Demon Deacons forward Draelon Burns made the mental mistake of taking a shot instead of letting the clock run down and getting fouled. He missed it, but Phil Missere fouled him with 12.9 seconds left. Burns made both free throws to make it 51-48.

"We just didn't execute down the stretch," said Hamilton, who finished with 15 points and six rebounds.

Torres had a chance to tie the game with a three at the top of the key on the next possession, but he was well contested and the ball bounced off the rim, wide left.

Roberts seemed more perturbed with losing at the Garden than getting defeated by a young team St. John's was supposed to beat. The Red Storm has two home games left (Seton Hall at MSG, Rutgers at Carnesecca Arena) with a road trip to No. 4 Villanova in between.

"Doesn't matter injuries, doesn't matter all that stuff," the second-year coach said. "We're supposed to win at home."

With a Big East tournament spot very much in doubt and an almost impossible showdown against the Wildcats on the road, the Johnnies have no other choice.

Reach contributing writer Marc Raimondi by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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