St. John's has proven time and time again that it can hang with the best of them. However, wins to cement that proof have been hard to come by. The once promising Johnnies squad that headed into BIG EAST play 10-2 have gotten so many cruel awakenings since then that losing has become a recurring nightmare.
St. John's (12-10, 2-8) dropped the ball yet again Saturday, losing its fifth consecutive game in BIG EAST play. This time, the loss came at the hands of No. 6/6 West Virginia at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm had a solid 26 minutes of game-play, but in a shock and awe final 14 minutes, the Mountaineers (19-3, 8-2) created a 32-point turnaround and took the "W" 79-60.
"We sat in the locker room for maybe 10 minutes after this game and just tried to talk about 'what is it,' what is it that we can't do," said STJ junior forward Justin Burrell. "I can't pinpoint it. I have no idea what it is."
The Johnnies led by as much as 16 points, 38-22, at the 18:41 mark of the second half. However, at the 14:12 mark, when St. John's held a 13-point advantage, the Mountaineers surged on a 14-0 run to take a 46-45 lead. The run included four WVU 3-pointers, a pair by Da'Sean Butler and a pair for Wellington Smith (10 points).
It was the last lead change of the game.
"A great player in our league (Butler) got hot and made some big shots he wasn't making in the first half," said Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts. "Second half we didn't pressure the basketball as much as we needed to on the wings; we allowed them to get into their cutting offense which allowed them to get lay-ups. In the first half, we pressured them and we didn't let them see those cuts and we didn't let them do those things."
Butler, who only had nine points in the first stanza, finished with a game-high 33 points. He went on 9-for-18 shooting from the field, including a perfect 7-for-7 from the arc, and a cool 8-for-8 from the charity stripe. Butler also grabbed seven rebounds and recorded six assists.
"Personally, when you're down you kind of get down and I tried to pick myself up and then pick my team up because my team looks at me when certain situations aren't going the way they're supposed to be going," said Butler. "As the captain and as a leader on the team, I had to pick my head up and just grab that lead and that's what I tried to do in the second half."
St. John's Paris Horne attempted to keep his team afloat with 10 second-half points en route to a 12-point finish.
But, West Virginia kept the pressure on St. John's, resulting in about a four-minute scoring hiatus for the Queens, N.Y. squad. The Mountaineers outrebounded the Johnnies in the second half 21-9 (43-34, overall). Mountaineers' Devin Ebanks, who netted 12 points, grabbed a game-high 10 boards in the contest.
Beginning after the 7:10 mark of the second stanza, West Virginia, sparked by Kevin Jones (13 points, seven rebounds), went on a 21-2 run. The surge extended WVU's lead to 77-56 with 1:30 remaining in regulation.
St. John's led 33-22 at the half.
The Johnnies' Burrell (12 points and eight rebounds) and Justin Brownlee (10 points and six rebounds) were strong off the glass in the first half, combining on 18 points and 11 rebounds. St. John's surged on a 16-2 run to gain a 14-point advantage, 33-19, with 50 seconds remaining before the midway mark.
"They have a lot of offensive tools and weapons," said Butler. "It's just a matter of we just came out in the second half and made everything uncomfortable. We made the shooters drive and made the drivers shoot . . ."
West Virginia nailed 44.1 percent (26-of-59) from the field. The Mountaineers also shot 58.8 percent (10-of-17) from the perimeter, including a nearly 89 percent (8-of-9) performance in the second half. Meanwhile, St. John's shot 39.7 percent (25-of-63) from the field and only 29.4 percent (5-of-17) from three.