Saturday, December 23, 2023

St. John's Pushes Champs To Limit In What Pitino Calls "Best game we have played this year"


Chris Ledlum looking to drive the lane. @StJohnsBBall.

The St. John's Red Storm came close to pulling off a statement win on the road on Saturday night, but they came up short as they fell to the defending National Champion UConn Huskies, 69-65.

UConn, who's ranked 5th overall in the country, improved to 11-2 overall and 1-1 in Big East play. The Huskies were led by Samson Johnson, who had 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting, with four rebounds and an assist. Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer each had 15 points, with Newton (4-14 FG, 1-6 three-pointers) just missing a double-double, as he had nine rebounds, plus six assists. Spencer shot 5-9 overall, including 2-4 on threes, with five rebounds and two assists.

St. John's, also 1-1 in the Big East and 8-4 overall, was led by Joel Soriano, who had 14 points on 4-5 from the field, with 11 rebounds. Daniss Jenkins had 13 points (4-13 FG, 1-6 threes), four assists, and two rebounds.

UConn jumped out to an early 11-3 lead, but St. John's beat back that early blitz with a 9-0 run on their way to taking a 32-26 lead at halftime.

Glenn Taylor Jr. opened the second half scoring with a layup, and UConn responded with a 10-0 run to take a 36-34 lead at the 17:27 mark. 

UConn then took a five-point edge when Youssouf Singare made a layup at the 13:08 mark that made it 46-41, and were up five again, 56-51, with 7:34 left when Tristen Newton made a three-pointer.

St. John's then began a run over the next few minutes, capped by Taylor draining a three with 4:15 left to put the Red Storm up 63-61.

UConn then showed why they were champions down the stretch, as they only allowed two points the rest of the way, a Soriano jumper at the 1:31 mark that made it 67-65 UConn at the time.

That was the score a minute later when Chris Ledlum had a chance to tie it after he was fouled fighting for a rebound with 17 seconds left.

Ledlum missed the first free throw, and then after a timeout in which St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino likely told him to miss the second one, he did, but UConn came up with the rebound.

Newton was fouled, and he hit one of two free throws to make it 68-67. After he missed the second, St. John's raced to the other end, where Daniss Jenkins lined up to take a three, and it rimmed out. 

Hassan Diarra was fouled grabbing the rebound with five seconds left, and he drained one of his free throws to put them up 69-65 and seal the win.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Red Storm Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the game, and he started by addressing the how the game went: "We lost that game because we didn't block out. Missed free throws you can't control. You can easily say, 'if they made their free throws, they win the game.' That's obvious. Missed shots and missed free throws and not why you lose. Backing up and giving up a three, not getting on the glass and blocking out - those things you can control. You can't control missed free throws. Now if we had made it, we would have won by four or five points, but we didn't. We are getting better,growing as a basketball team and that's what I want to see. This is a tough crowd to go against and we did a lot of really good things. Only had two turnovers in the first half."

On team's performance: "It's a missed opportunity, but the best game we have played this year...We had six turnovers in the game, and we were turnover-prone to start the year. We outrebounded them. We are coming as a basketball team. It should be a nice Christmas for these guys because they played their hearts out, gave everything they can, and they lost on the road."

On the team's defense against UConn: "I think we are getting better and better. These guys were void of fundamentals and now they are getting fundamentally sound in all phases of the game, but a lack of fundamental cost us the game today. We are getting better and I'm going to have a really good Christmas because of the improvement of the basketball team. Are we all disappointed that we lost this game? Yes, we are, but we are all very pleased with the effort and the fact that we are getting better."

On the outcome of the game: "I think it was an excellent game. I can find fault in the blocking out, but I can't find fault in any other area. I thought the guys played their hearts out. They are very disappointed with the loss but we move on to play Hofstra (next Saturday, December 30 at noon at UBS Arena). I think we are going to be a very good basketball team. We just have to be careful that we don't take too many losses because we now have four."

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