Despite trailing by only six points at the break, USF could not match St. John's 22-5 run in the second half.
Led by sophomore guard Paris Horne's 19 points and four steals, the Johnnies (12-9, 3-6 BIG EAST) clipped the Bulls (7-14, 2-7) at its Queens campus 65-48.
A jumper by St. John's sophomore forward Rob Thomas, who played in his first game since the groin injury, tied the game 40-all with 12:19 remaining in the second half. After the field goal, both teams were caught in a blizzard of tough defense and bad offense for about five minutes, as neither squad was able to score a bucket nor draw a foul.
"I thought we did a great job when we weren't scoring, we didn't allow them to score and that was a big key and we rebounded the ball well," said St. John's head coach Norm Roberts.
Defensively, USF held St. John's by playing the zone and either trapping a Johnnies player in the post or clogging the paint to prevent the inside drive. But, even the Bulls' leading scorers sophomore guard Dominique Jones and freshman high-post player Augustus Gilchrist, who finished with 16 and 12 points, respectively, could not spark a comeback for their team.
"[Dominique Jones] is a great scorer," said D.J. Kennedy. "Before coming into the game I really locked-in and just wanted to hold him down. Great players and great scorers are going to get their shots and points, so we just tried to contain him."
A fast break 180-degree dunk by Horne off a feed from freshman guard Quincy Roberts, ended the dry patch for the Johnnies with 7:28 on the clock. Horne's dunk spelled tragedy for the Bulls, as St. John's pulled the game away to a 62-45 advantage with a collective effort from the team's starting five and sixth man Roberts. In the end, every player on the Johnnies squad who recorded minutes, posted points on the stat sheet, including a 14-point contribution from the bench.
"I thought it was a team win, team win- we made plays when we had to make plays," said Coach Roberts.
Sean Evans recorded a double-double, finishing with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Justin Burrell had 10 points and four rebounds, while sophomore swingman D.J. Kennedy notched six points, six boards and five assists.
The Johnnies were much more comfortable with sophomore floor general Malik Boothe, who controlled the offensive fluidity of the game. Boothe was also playing for the first time since a thumb injury. The team was up by as much as 17 points after a free throw by Burrell with 1:06 left in regulation.
St. John's invaded the paint, outscoring USF 32-12.
On the defensive end, the Johnnies pressured the ball all day, not needing to lighten up on the man-to-man press with its post players being alleviated by Thomas and sophomore forward Dele Coker in the rotation. St. John's out-rebounded the Bulls 39-29 and held on to the ball better, only committing 10 turnovers.
"I'm proud of our guys, we took better care of the basketball and we made plays when we had to and that's how you got to win in the Big East," said Coach Roberts.
With the return of two key players on Super Bowl Sunday, St. John's saw a smoother flow on both sides of the floor and came out with the much needed win.
"We just played this game- that was our Super Bowl," said Coach Roberts.
The win moved the Red Storm into a tie for 10th place in the 16-team Big East with Notre Dame and No. 25 Georgetown.
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