Saturday, January 20, 2024

St. John's Makes "Quantum Leap" To Nearly Stun Marquette


The Garden erupted after a Joel Soriano layup pulled St. John's within two in the final minutes. Photo by Jason Schott.

St. John's broke out 1994 vintage uniforms on Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden, and they put on a gritty performance worthy of that era when they nearly pulled off a late comeback that fell short in a heartbreaking 73-72 loss to Marquette.

This is the third straight brutal loss for St. John's, as they also lost by one point at Creighton last Saturday before being humbled by St. John's on Tuesday night in Jersey. (Side note: Creighton outlasted Seton Hall 97-94 in three overtimes in New Jersey as this one was going on.

St. John's fell to 4-4 in Big East play and 12-7 overall, while 17th-ranked Marquette improved to 4-3 in conference play and 13-5 overall.

After a slow start in which they had to adjust to the speed of Marquette, St. John's made a surge late in the first half, with a 14-4 run to take a 34-24 lead. Marquette put up four points in the final 1:20 to cut it to six at the break.

In the second half, Marquette's offensive stalwarts Tyler Kolek, Oso Ighodaro, and David Joplin began to percolate, and they would tie it six minutes in, and they would eventually begin to pull away.

Marquette went on a 13-2 run capped by a Joplin three-pointer in the corner to make it 72-58 with 6:20 remaining.

Marquette Head Coach Shaka Smart greeting his team at half court during their big run in the second half. Photo by Jason Schott.

Coming out of an opportune timeout for St. John's, Joel Soriano made a layup at 5:51, then RJ Luis drained a pair of free throws and after a steal by Luis at 5:08, Daniss Jenkins made a layup with 4:56 left that pulled them within seven, 71-64, and The Garden was rocking again.

Jenkins made a jumper at 3:14, and then after Kolek drained a pair of free throws, Jenkins buried a three-pointer to make it a 73-69 game with 2:55 left. The key to Jenkins' three was that Brady Dunlap snagged a pass that was destined to go in the fifth row and whipped it back to Jenkins clear across the court by the Red Storm bench.

Over a minute later, after Kolek missed a couple free throw attempts, Soriano made a layup that pulled them within just a basket, at 73-71, with 1:35 left.

Marquette then attempted to slow it down, and Joplin took a three that fell short, which really got the crowd going before St. John's went to the other end for a chance at the lead.

Jenkins had a good look at a three-pointer with 46 seconds left, but it rimmed out. Chris Ledlum snagged the offensive rebound, and RJ Luis took his chance at a three, which missed, but Jenkins was fouled after snagging the rebound with 38 seconds left.

After making the first free throw to pull St. John's within one, with time standing still it seemed, Jenkins' second attempt rimmed out, leaving St. John's still down one, at 73-72.

Joplin grabbed the rebound, and he was fouled by Luis. It would be a one-and-one, and Joplin missed the first to give the Red Storm the ball back.

On the ensuing possession, Ledlum missed a three-point attempt from the corner in front of their bench with 10 seconds left.

Kolek was at the line on a one-one-one with six seconds left, and since he missed the first, St. John's had the ball back again with a chance to win.

The Red Storm had to take the ball the length of the floor with 4.3 seconds on the clock, and they raced down rapidly, and Jenkins had a nice look from the side just in front of where St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino stands, and it once again missed the mark. Pitino fell backwards in the aftermath of watching their comeback fall short.

"Major, major, a quantum leap how we finished that game," Pitino said of how impressed he was by his team in the final minutes. "I had an owner in Panathinaikos (where he coached from 2018-20), Dmitri, we lost three games and he'd be so upset, and I said to him, I said, 'don't panic, three tough teams, we'll be fine, we'll make the playoffs, no problem. January, if you looked at the schedule, you say, 'that's gonna be a rough month for them,' okay. You have your points in the schedule where it's going to be rough, then you pick it up, but the guts, like I told them in the timeout before the last, I said, 'you want to quit shooting, you're going to lose by 18 or 20, you want to run your offense, you're going to win this game.'... We went to the offensive glass like we were possessed at the end of the game, so that was a great sign. We took a quantum leap because we're getting better, and you've got to judge a team by a whole body of work...I think we're making strides, I can't tell you where we're going to be at the end, I just think we're making great strides."


Daniss Jenkins' three-point attempt as time expired and the aftermath in three pictures.

Marquette was led by Oso Ighodaro, who had 17 points on a superb 8-for-10 from the field, with five rebounds and two assists. Tyler Kolek had 15 points on 6-12 shooting, with 1-3 from behind the arc, plus 11 assists to give him a double-double, and six rebounds. David Joplin had 13 points on 5-13 from the field, 3-7 on three-pointers, three rebounds, and an assist. 

All three of them each had 11 points in the second half, leading a Marquette offense that shot an impressive 75 percent in the final 20 minutes, as they shot 18-24 from the field.

St. John's was led by RJ Luis Jr., who had 10 points on 7-18 from the field, 2-6 on three-pointers, and 4-4 from the free throw line, with four rebounds, two assists, and three steals. Daniss Jenkins had 16 points (6-13 FG, 2-6 on threes), with four rebounds and two assists, but six turnovers. Chris Ledlum had 13 points (5-14 FG, 1-4 threes), with 11 rebounds to give him a double-double, plus four assists.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media, and here's what he said in addition to his quote earlier in this report: 

Opening statement: "We had two great looks, especially the one in the corner by Chris Ledlum, to win the game, and unfortunately it didn't bounce our way. When we lost to Creighton, I think you could see how unhappy I was about the loss because there are no moral victories. But tonight, there are moral victories. I think we were undermanned, and I thought our guys showed amazing character down the stretch to fight back against a very seasoned ballclub that was picking us apart defensively. Although we lost and I'm disappointed, I thought it was a great effort by our guys and I can't complain about the way they played. They ran their offense, they went back door, they did some really good things tonight. I'm really pleased with our performance, but very disappointed we lost. Let's give Marquette all the credit for executing the two-man game in the second half."

On Marquette: "They just force you to switch. They help and [Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro] play like Stockton and Malone. They are very good with each other, and they know how to throw the pocket pass. You have to switch it, and we did a few times, but we came off the corner. They shot a very high percentage in the second half, shooting 75 percent, but despite all of that, coming back and having a good chance of winning is a good thing."

On the close Big East losses they have had this season: "Every coach gets discouraged with a loss but unerstand, [Marquette, Creighton and UConn] are three teams you could rank in the Top 10 in the nation. And of course, we beat Villanova [on the road] for the first time in three decades. [Marquette] is a machine because they known each other so well. We are just getting to know each other and building something. I think our crowd is great, even though are numbers aren't high. It doesn't have to be high. The 10 or 11 thousand who are here are awesome. Everything is going in the right direction for us regardless of the score. We are going to build something that you are going to look at in two years and say, 'that's greatness.' I'm committed to that."

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