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December 16, 2013

Syracuse beats St. John's in 4 minutes

NEW YORK, NY - This was a big game for St. John's. They have a good team and they were facing the #2 team in the country. Syracuse was by far the biggest test of the season for the Red Storm.

After falling behind by as many as 13 points early in the second half, they stormed all the way back to take the lead during the late stages of the game. Unfortunately, they had too many blunders during the last 4 minutes and fell 68-63 to their former Big East rival.

St. John's came out sluggish to start the game. They didn't play well in the beginning. They did have a lot of energy however, and it was reflected in a 14-13 score midway through the first half. Then Syracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis banked in a three pointer from straight away that seemed to give the Orange the momentum they needed to control the rest of the half.

Ennis really controlled the game in the first half, running amok against the St. John's defense. He scored 15 of his 21 points in the half, showing why he is an exceptional point guard. Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said Ennis was the smartest freshman point guard he has ever coached, and he's had a lot of good ones come through the program.

St. John's trailed 39-27 at halftime. St. John's coach Steve Lavin felt his team needed to come out with a different mindset for the second half, and they were able to do just that.

Syracuse senior forward C.J. Fair made a jumper to give his team a 44-32 lead. The Red Storm were finally able to get themselves together and had a 23-10 run to come all the way back and take the lead.

The run included a couple of dunks from sophomore JaKarr Sampson while junior guard D'Angelo Harrison started to warm up. Harrison was very aggressive, consistently finding a way to get into the paint against the Syracuse formidable zone defense and knocking down the shots he wanted to take. That particular run ended when Harrison made another jumper to give St. John's a 55-54 lead.

Freshman guard Rysheed Jordan was also instrumental in the run. Jordan's ability to drive into the lane and get up a shot forced Syracuse to converge on him which inevitably put him on the free throw line. This was Jordan's best game yet as a member of the Red Storm. He got to the line 9 times in the game and made every single one of them. Jordan finished with 13 points.

St. John's led 60-58 when Jordan fouled Ennis and put him on the free throw line with 4:39 left in the game. Ennis made both freebies, and after a missed jumper by Jordan, Ennis drove in for a lay-up to give his team the lead for good. This is when St. John's started to make the mistakes that cost them the game.

With St. John's now on the wrong side of a 62-60 score, Sampson was fouled and had two free throws to tie the game. He missed both of them. He was asked how he felt after he missed them.

"That's going to kill me. I've been thinking about those since I missed them, me missing two big free throws. I feel like that was a big part of the game. I feel like it turned the momentum." Sampson said. He finished with 12 points.

On Syracuse's next possession, Fair was able to drain a jumper over the outstretched arm of Sir'Dominic Pointer. Harrison missed a jumper on the next play, but Fair turned the ball over and Harrison got a chance to redeem himself at the line. Harrison is a very good free throw shooter, but he missed the first one. Harrison, who scored a team high 21 points, was able to knock in the second one. Now St. John's was down 64-61.

Fair wasn't going to turn the ball over again, and this time he knocked in another jumper after Pointer got caught up in a screen. Fair struggled for most of the second half, but was able to deliver when his team needed him to. He tied with Ennis for team high in points with 21.

There was still a chance for the Red Storm to make something happen with under a minute left. But there was a miscommunication on the sideline and Orlando Sanchez threw the ball out of bounds trying to find Harrison. Harrison went one way and the ball went the other. Other turnovers and off balance shots doomed St. John's in the last four minutes.

Lavin felt this was a game that his team that his team should have won. He thought the team was tentative in the first half and was disappointed with how they played. He did think his team played a lot better in the second half, for the most part.

"I thought in the first half we were tentative. We were not aggressive or effective in any aspect of play. In the second half we played well enough to rally from behind, but in the last five minutes, Syracuse got good looks at the basket and we did not execute well enough on offense to win."

In year's past this might have been a moral victory. St. John's played Syracuse well, and almost came away with a win. They almost beat the #2 team in the nation who are currently 10-0. Just having a chance to win when the clock was winding down used to be cause for a celebration. At least a calm sense of satisfaction knowing your undermanned team gave it their all.

Not for this team. Lavin came into the game fully expecting to win.

"We don't believe moral victories are good enough. This is our home court and we came to win today."

The next game for St. John's is on Wednesday against San Francisco.

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