Sunday, February 25, 2024

St. John's Flips Script, Closes Out Creighton With Late Flourish At The Garden


Daniss Jenkins with the ball at the perimeter, amidst the "white out" at The Garden. Photo by Jason Schott.

St. John's has stumbled a lot in the second half of games throughout the season, but on Sunday, they flipped the script on that as they closed out Creighton, 80-66, on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The Red Storm have now won two in a row to inch their Big East record back to nearly even, at 8-9, while improving their overall record to 16-12. This was their strongest win of the season, as it came against a team ranked 15th in the country.

St. John's began this one, as they do most games, with a 20-10 lead eight minutes in. That was quickly reversed, as the Blue Jays took a 25-24 edge on a Steven Ashworth layup at 7:21 of the first half.

From then on, St. John's went on a stunning 17-3 run to close the first half, one in which they shot 55.9 percent (19-34) to Creighton's 33.3% (11-33).

In the second half, Creighton chipped into St. John's edge, briefly pulling to within five, at 55-50, on a Trey Alexander jumper at the 9:05 mark.

St. John's generally was up seven until the final five minutes, at what is usually the time things begin to go sideways.

Instead, it was St. John's who went on a 9-0 run over just one minute and 54 seconds to take a 72-56 lead, capped by a Daniss Jenkins jumper at 2:52. 

Creighton did cut it to ten, but Joel Soriano drained four free throws in the final minute to seal the win.

St. John's shot 47.2 percent (34-72) for the game, with 34 points in the paint, as they took a lot of runs right at the hoop, and they dished out 24 assists while committing only three turnovers. Their defense held Creighton to 39.7 percent (25-63) from the field, and forced them to commit 13 turnovers. One big difference was, since St. John's owned the inside, they only made eight three-point attempts, making two, while Creighton took 26 attempts from behind the arc, making just six of them, or 23.3 percent.

The Red Storm was led by Daniss Jenkins, who had 27 points on 12-18 from the field, including 1-2 on three-pointers, with six assists, two steals, and a rebound. Jordan Dingle had 18 points (8-13 FG), one rebound, and one assist. Joel Soriano had 12 points (4-10 FG), seven rebounds and five assists.

Creighton was led by Trey Alexander, who had 31 points (nearly half of the Blue Jays' 66) on 12-23 from the field, 4-8 from behind the arc, with four rebounds and three assists. Ryan Kalkbrenner had a double-double with 12 points (5-11 FG) and 10 rebounds, with four assists. Baylor Scheierman also had 12 points (4-16 FG, 1-10 threes), with five rebounds and two assists.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the game, and he opened with this statement: "I really don't know what to boast on because I'm not sure if the offense was better than the defense or the defense was better than the offense. When you have 24 assists and only three turnovers, that's a special offensive night. When you hold them to 39 [percent from the floor] and 23 [percent from three], especially in the first half, the defense was great. So many times the shot clock was ready to go off and that's when you know you are playing great defense. I'm really proud of the guys. It was a great performance. We had two really good days of practice...Our strengths have always been the fast break and pushing the pace and I don't want to let up from pushing the pace because they are not going to sub much. I wanted their legs to have to sprint back and play you in transition as well as against the press and the guys did a fabulous job."

On if this was the best team performance of the season: "No question. No question because we played both ends of the floor and we kept trying to push it, win the game and not be afraid to lose the game. I told them, 'Don't look at the scoreboard, keep pushing.' As I said, we had two great days of practice. Believe it or not, we played a terrible game against Georgetown. Awful defensively, we gave up like 13 uncontested layups and I said that has to stop and we have to push the pace. I said everyone is going to play, be ready to play, be ready to go in and they were. I told Glenn Taylor [Jr.], you got to rebound the ball for us. He did a fabulous job tonight."

On Glenn Taylor Jr.s performance: "I met with him and said, 'Glenn, you are not driving to the basket, you are not rebounding, you are not playing great defense. I need you to start doing that. You are capable of it; you are a great athlete.' He did it tonight. He rebounded, he played great defense, he did a lot of really good things."

On if this win gave the team belief it can win games in the Big East Tournament: "I think our guys have always believed it could be done. Sometimes, because they are new, they don't know how to get it done. They get frustrated sometimes and they try to play so hard, they try to get it back in the next 10 seconds. We told them every four minutes that we want to make sure we are moving the basketball. They did a fabulous job with it."

MARCH MADNESS IMPLICATIONS: This was the kind of "strength of opponent" victory St. John's needed, but it doesn't excuse the fact they are still just 8-9 in Big East play, with their final three games against opponents weaker than them - at Butler (7-10 Big East) on Wednesday, at DePaul (2-14) on Tuesday, March 5, and against Georgetown (0-16) on Saturday, March 9 at The Garden. For the Red Storm to make March Madness, they need to win these three and two at the Big East Tournament starting March 13, and that would give them 21 overall wins.

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