NEW YORK (Jim O'Connell, AP, Dec. 20, 2009) - St. John's had been in this situation too many times. The Red Storm were trailing Hofstra, a team that had beaten them the last four times they met, an unfathomable streak for the school that dominated college basketball in New York for decades.
But in the game's final eight minutes, things changed. Hofstra's tenuous lead was wiped out and then some by a game-closing 18-1 run that gave St. John's a 72-60 victory Sunday in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
"We locked in and did a pretty good job defensively down the stretch,'' said D.J. Kennedy, who had 10 of his 19 points in the decisive run. The junior swingman, who also had 15 rebounds, started the stretch with a reverse layup that got St. John's (9-1) within three with 5:53 to play. The performance marked his ninth-career double-double and his second in as many games.
Charles Jenkins, who led the Pride (7-4) with 24 points, had given Hofstra a 59-54 lead with a 3-pointer with 6:58 to go. Hofstra would score only one more point for the rest of the contest. St. John's forced the Pride to miss its last 12 shots from the field as the Red Storm, whose only loss this season was in single-digits at Duke, took control by going 10-of-13 from the free-throw line over the final 4:14.
"That was one of the better defensive performances we've had, but it was really more about toughness," said St. John's coach Norm Roberts. "The last 10 minutes we locked in, got in transition and attacked."
St. John's will play Cornell, which beat Davidson 91-88 in overtime, in the championship game Monday night. This is St. John's record 44th Holiday Festival appearance and it also has a record 14 titles, the last of which came in 2005. The next year, the Red Storm lost to Hofstra in the final, the fourth of the Pride's four-straight wins in the series.
In addition to Kennedy's double-double effort, junior big man Justin Brownlee also posted a second-straight double-double with 10 points and 13 rebounds to go along with a career-high five blocks. St. John's finished with a season-high 11 rejections and a 53-41 rebounding advantage, including 19-14 on the offensive end.
The big matchup down the stretch was Kennedy, who scored 11 points and grabbed nine boards in the second half, against Jenkins, who had just three field goals in the second stanza. Other notable Red Storm performances were delivered by juniors Dwight Hardy (17 points, 6-of-12 field goals, 3-of-6 from long range), Sean Evans (eight points, 10 boards, six offensive) and floor genera Malik Boothe, who scored six of his eight points in the contest's final four minutes.
Following the Holiday Festival, STJ takes on the Bryant Bulldogs on Wednesday, Dec. 23, at Carnesecca Arena in the first-ever "Ugly Holiday Sweater" game.
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