The loss came three days after the Red Storm (4-5) dropped its third game in as many seasons to the Ohio State Buckeyes, 71-58, last Wednesday in Columbus, a game that saw St. John's fall behind by as much as 21 before making the game respectable down the stretch.
Against Hofstra (6-2), however, the Red Storm appeared to be back in top form, at least for a while.
"I don't want any excuses about how young we are," head coach Mike Jarvis said after the loss Saturday at the Nassau Coliseum. "The reality is that we're young, but that in itself is not enough...we should have won today in spite of our youth. We got beat today by a very determined group of young men."
St. John's seemed determined to put a series of slow starts behind it in the opening minute against the Pride. Anthony Glover's basket 10 seconds into the game was followed by a steal by Omar Cook, who found Alpha Bangura for the layup as the Red Storm took a 4-0 lead less than 30 seconds into the game.
But the team's offense quickly disappeared. Two free throws by Cook at 17:14 were the only points St. John's could muster for the next five minutes, as Hofstra seemed to score on every possession, staking itself to a 14-6 lead after Lars Grubler's basket at 15:07.
The Red Storm did wake up eventually, chipping away at Hofstra's lead behind its trap defense and the superb play of freshman Willie Shaw, who converted the old-fashioned three-point play at 7:54 to give the Red Storm back the lead, 23-22.
Shaw, who did not start for the first time this season, made the most of being the team's sixth man, finishing with a game-high 28 points, including 18 in the first half that allowed St. John's to re-establish control of the game.
"I knew what I would get out of Willie," Jarvis said. "Unfortunately, we didn't get much else."
The Red Storm answered every Hofstra charge late in the first half by hitting their shots. The Pride was within two in the final minute of the half, but back-to-back baskets by Shaw and Bangura gave St. John's a 42-36 lead at halftime.
Hofstra was playing primarily with its veterans in the lineup. Roberto Gittens, Norman Richardson, Jason Hernandez and Rick Apodaca all started and played more than 30 minutes, while Grubler came off the bench to play 28.
And it was that veteran leadership that enabled Hofstra to pull off the upset in the second half.
"I think that had a big impact on the game," Hofstra coach Jay Wright said of his team's experience against the very young St. John's squad.
After Glover put St. John's up by eight to start the second half, Hofstra came storming back. A three-pointer by Hernandez at the 14:12 mark tied the game at 51 and following a miss by Cook and a foul on Kyle Cuffe, Gittens hit two free throws to give the Pride back the lead.
Shaw tied the game a minute later, but Hofstra scored eight straight points, including a three-point play by Grubler, who grabbed an offensive rebound off his own miss and scored on the putback while getting fouled by freshman Mohamed Diakite. Apodaca then nailed a three following a turnover and the Pride stole the ensuing inbound pass, which Gittens laid in.
St. John's did not lay down, however, fighting back to with one, 62-61 on a basket by Glover at 9:27, and answering a three by Danny Walker with one by Shaw, who was fouled on the play. But Shaw did not convert the free throw and Hofstra came back down the court, setting up a trey by Richardson.
Every time St. John's got close, the Pride had an answer. After two Cook free throws tied the game at 68, Hofstra scored four straight points. And when Kyle Cuffe scored at 3:43 to make the score 74-72 Hofstra, Richardson countered with another three-pointer.
But perhaps the game's deciding moment was when senior Reggie Jessie missed two free throws with 1:59 remaining that would have cut Hofstra's lead to two. Instead, the Pride's Hernandez scored to put Hofstra up by six moments later.
"Obviously it's a big win," Wright said. "But we don't judge ourselves by St. John's."
Jarvis was critical of the play of his big men under the boards after the game, as the Red Storm were out-rebounded for the fifth straight game. Changes could be in the offing.
"Every game we've lost we lost the boards," Jarvis said. "Who knows? My best move might be to move Glover back to center. It seems we were getting a lot more rebounds when we had a 6-5 center."
Shaw's 28 led St. John's, which also got 17 from Glover and 13 points, 13 assists and a team-high seven rebounds from Cook. Richardson led Hofstra with 22, followed by 14 from Apodaca, 13 from Hernandez and Gittens and 11 from Grubler.
Notes: Lefrak City's Joel Suarez played four minutes for Hofstra, missing his only field goal attempt, while Abdou Sylla, formerly of Cardozo High School, saw three minutes of action.
Next up for the Johnnies are the Manhattan College Jaspers on Thursday at Alumni Hall. Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m. The team is coached by St. John's grad Bobby Gonzalez.
Ohio State 71, St. John's 58. Cook and Cuffe led St. John's with 12 apiece, Shaw added 11 and Jessie scored 10 in the loss. Cook also added eight assists, but the team shot just 41.7 percent from the field. Ohio State was led by Brian Brown's 18 points.
©2000 Community News Group
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