Friday, March 15, 2024

St. John’s Gave The Champs A Battle, & They Now Await Selection Sunday


Daniss Jenkins looks to make a play late in the first half. Photo by Jason Schott. 

The St. John’s Red Storm gave the Connecticut Huskies another battle, but as they did twice in the regular season, came up short, as they lost, 95-90, on Friday night in the Big East Tournament Semifinals.

St. John’s finishes the season with an overall record of 20-13, and they now wait to see their fate when it comes to the NCAA Tournament in two nights on Selection Sunday. 

St. John’s Head Coach Rick Pitino was asked after the game if he is looking forward to what Sunday brings, and he said, “Yeah, I think - I want to see who we’re going to play, obviously, and prepare and get ready. Jordan (Dingle) came here to play in the Tournament, going to get his wishes. And we’ll see who we play, We’ll see what’s going to go on.

“You know, we played a really tough schedule this year, guys. Really tough schedule. You know, we haven’t had too many easy games, and we’ve played Marquette twice, tough. We beat Creighton. Should have beat them on the road. With the exception of Seton Hall at Seton Hall, we’ve played really well in the Big East. Big East is a hell of a conference, as you know.”

Connecticut Head Coach Dan Hurley said of St. John’s, “Ultimate respect for, obviously, Coach Pitino, and how good they are in year one (with him at the helm). I don’t know what seed they’ll be, but that’s one of the better teams we’ve played, one of the more talented teams, and clearly an NCAA Tournament team.”

The Red Storm opened Friday night’s game looking like a contender, as they raced out to a 10-3 lead, with Daniss Jenkins providing all of their points in the run.

Connecticut then settled in, and they took a 17-16 lead when Tristen Newton made a pair of free throws at the 13:43 mark of the first half. The Huskies kept going and opened up a 10-point lead, 34-24, on a Newton layup at 7:46. St. John’s was able to cut that deficit in half, and head into the break down just five, at 52-47.

The fact it was only a five-point game was remarkable considering that Connecticut shot 63 percent (17-27) in the first half, to St. John’s making 16 of 38 shot attempts, or 42.1 percent.

St. John’s put a scare into UConn early in the second half, as Jenkins buried a deep jumper to make it a two-point game, 56-54, at the 17:19 mark. 

UConn responded with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes and seven seconds, and an elongated 13-2 run when Samson Johnson buried a hook shot that made it 69-56 at 13:48. 

From that point on, UConn maintained around a 10-point lead until St. John’s pulled to within six, 91-85, with 35 seconds left. 

St. John’s was led by Daniss Jenkins, who had 27 points, including 16 in the first half, on 9-22 from the field, including 3-7 from behind the arc, with five assists and a rebound. Jordan Dingle had 19 points on a superb 8-12 shooting, including 3-5 on threes, with three assists and a rebound. RJ Luis Jr. had nine points (3-9 FT) off the bench, with two rebounds and an assist.

UConn, who improved to 30-3 and face Marquette in the title game Saturday night, was led by Tristen Newton, who had 25 points on 6-11 shooting, 3-7 from behind the arc, and 10-12 on free throws, with nine assists and six rebounds. Cam Spencer had 20 points (5-10 FG, 4-5 threes, 6-6 FT), with nine assists and four rebounds.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John’s Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the game, and he opened with this statement: “So I want to congratulate Connecticut. They’re very deserving of a defending champion. They’re just a great, great offensive basketball team. Real proud of our guys. I saw some things in Jordan Dingle that I absolutely loved tonight, a competitive fire in him that was great to see. Daniss has always had it. Jordan keeps getting better and better and better. And, unfortunately, we just couldn’t get a run, get over the top.

“Biggest problem was our transition defense. They were eight for nine in the first half, and that put us in the box. Sometimes you can’t always go to the offensive glass, you’ve got to get back. But these guys played their tails off, real proud of them. We were hoping for a Big East crown, but the other team was better than us. We’ve played them three times to the wire, and they find a way to win.

“Cam Spencer does all the things that are terrific. Newton was great. They have a great basketball team. And somebody said to me, how does it feel to play on your home court where they say - and you’re a road team. I said, well, I coached quite a few years at Kentucky. We were always the home team wherever we went. And they’re the Kentucky of the East. They got the greatest fan base in basketball, and Kentucky had the greatest fan base in that part of the country. Kansas has the greatest fan base in their part of the country. So we’ll get it. We lost a lot of fans in the last 20 years. We gotta get them back. And I think efforts like tonight will get them stimulated and get them back.”

On St. John’s being able to fight back for the full 40 minutes: “I thought that was something I was very impressed with. Because one thing about Connecticut, they do it all the time, you think you’re in the game, you’re up one or two at halftime, ten-minute mark, they’re only down four or six and they win by 25. Happens all the time. But it hasn’t happened against us. So I’m real proud of them.”

Conclusion of press conference: “One thing I’ll say in closing. We’ve had three turnovers, six turnovers, six turnovers, five turnovers against really good teams. I mean, in coaching some great teams, I had nine turnovers, ten turnovers. But we’re not turning the ball over at all, which is a great sign going into March.

“And so we’ve really gotten a lot better over the last three weeks. It’s what you want to see going into March. And I think we could - obviously if we get the right matchup, we could cause some serious damage.

“But I want to thank all of you for the coverage this year. It’s been a real interesting experience coaching St. John’s. I don’t say that in a positive or negative way. It’s been interesting from driving over the Throgs Neck Bridge and having people curse and cut me off, it’s been great. Thank you.”

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