Thursday, March 14, 2024

St. John’s Stuns Seton Hall, Finally Makes It To Friday At Big East Tournament


RJ Luis Jr. goes up for a layup. @StJohnsBBall.

The third time was the charm for the St. John’s Red Storm against the Seton Hall Pirates, as they earned a 91-72 win in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on Thursday afternoon.

This came after the Red Storm lost two brutal games to Seton Hall in the regular season, the second of which was the Red Storm’s last loss before they concluded the regular season with five straight victories.

On a larger point, this was St. John’s 20th win of the season, which should assure them a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

It is also the first time St. John’s has made a Big East Tournament semifinal since 2000. They move on to face the top seed in the tournament, Connecticut, the defending National Champion, at 5:30 PM on Friday evening at The Garden.

St. John’s took this game over halfway through the first half, when they took a 10-2 lead to take a 33-26 edge on a pair of Joel Soriano free throws at 6:18. The Red Storm took a 45-40 lead into halftime.

The start of the second half was really the breakthrough St. John’s was waiting for against The Hall, as they went on an 11-3 run to open up a 56-43 edge. 

That lead expanded to 15 points when Jordan Dingle buried a three-pointer that made it 71-56 at the 9:11 mark. From that point on, with minor deviations, St. John’s maintained a ten-point edge the rest of the way until a 10-2 run, capped by a Daniss Jenkins steal followed by a basket, gave them a 16-point edge, 85-69, with just 1:52 left.

St. John’s was led by RJ Luis Jr., who had 18 points on 5-11 from the field and a perfect 8-8 at the free throw line, nine rebounds, and two assists. Joel Soriano, Nahiem Alleyne, and Jordan Dingle each chipped in 14 points. Chris Ledlum and Daniss Jenkins had 11 points apiece to give the Red Storm six players in double figures.

Seton Hall was led by Al-Amir Dawes, who had 22 points on 9-15 from the field and 4-10 on three-pointers, with three rebounds, two assists, and two steals, but he committed five turnovers.

For the game, St. John’s shot 51.6 percent, or 32-62, while Seton Hall was held to just 43.1 percent, or 25-58. 

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the game, and he opened with this statement: "We're extremely happy for St. John's fans and the university. You know, about three weeks ago, I don't know the exact date, the administration, we were talking and they said, look, Coach, everybody's behind you. But I want to correct that and make sure I say it verbatim, so I don't look back. They said, you know, you started so well and I think everybody's expectations were a little too high. And I just kept thinking. And they kept saying, so, you know, it's a good season, and let's just finish up, and it's a good season.

"I could sense in their thinking that in their minds it was over. In our minds it was just beginning, because March is what it's all about in college basketball. We told the guys, you gotta play your best basketball going into March. And we knew we had seven now, I think, six or seven, elimination games. Seven. And these guys arose to the occasion on all seven. They knew if they lost to Creighton, lost to Butler, lost to DePaul, lost to Georgetown, it could be over. So we decided to change our whole defensive scheme in terms of pace in three days, because we felt Seton Hall was better from the top of the key to the back board game. 

"We knew we had our rebound. We knew he had to get in the gaps like they do, because they're really an outstanding basketball team. And we thought that they would play their guys a lot of minutes. And I told our guys, we're going to substitute right away. Run the floor, run the floor, run the floor. And they did a beautiful job. So I'm real proud of them, real happy for St. John's. 

"They're a terrific team. We beat an outstanding team tonight and we scored 91 points, which leads to what we want to do. Real proud of them. Big fella here did an outstanding job. RJ is getting better and better. Now he's practicing, for the first time, every day. So that's really, really good. Joel told them, he said it's about time to start practicing."

Q: Rick, when the administration talked to you guys, why did you think differently? What did you see in this team that you thought? Pitino: "It's not necessarily what I thought at that moment. I just said that there's so many games to be played. I remember one time I was at Louisville, looked like we were down and out and we had to beat Pitt on the road. Another great road game. And we won I think seven out of nine, seven out of ten games to make it. 

"It's never over if you keep getting better, keep improving, and we were playing really good basketball. We were losing to outstanding teams by one, two, three. All close games. So, you know, I wasn't - I told the guys, you know, March is what it's all about. Going into March in the last two weeks of the season, if you get better, then you're going to be a March team. And they kept getting better. And it's a credit to them."

Q: Coach, Nahiem Alleyne played amazing today. Do you think he was your secret weapon because he's played in the tournament before? Pitino: "He had zero turnovers, two assists, five for five, three for three from three. So I think you're right on that. I think he's a veteran basketball player. We needed him. But I thought all the guys made great plays tonight. You know, it's very difficult for us to play without D.J. But Na and Jordan did a fabulous job, and we've got a third point guard and that's RJ. RJ is a man, he plays power forward for us. He plays the wings. RJ can play all four positions, and it's not easy to do and he does it very well."

Q: With you having six players scoring double figures today, with this win streak you guys have had different contributors kind of stepping up. Having all of them do it today, what does that show about the progress this team has made? Pitino: Well, we had three tough practices, and the message I had to them - I gave them two messages. I said this time of year some teams get really, really tight and they rely on their half court basketball. And I said I want you to do the opposite. I want you to go out and try and score 100 points tonight. I want you to play race horse basketball, get a high number of assists, and get in the gaps and play them.

"But we've gotta play a different style come March. It's gotta be race horse basketball, because I feel it takes the pressure off teams. When you're in the open court and you're running and you're having to move the ball, pass the ball and cut, you're not overthinking in the half court. And we did that tonight. We gave them two messages. Pace, we're going to sub right away. And then the second thing I put, I just put on the board, I said, we got dinner right away. Then we have the Connecticut film. And then we're bringing you back at 1:00 for Connecticut film. (Laughs)."

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