It would be a slow start for the Red Storm (2-1) as the Ball State Cardinals (2-2) gave St. John's all they could handle at the Alaskan Shootout on Thursday morning.
After regaining their composure, the Johnnies would pull ahead but the Cardinals would not relent, taking the game into overtime. St. John's would take the lead in OT and ultimately pull out the 78-73 win and a happier Thanksgiving.
Ball State would pull ahead slowly but surely in the opening minutes of the game, taking a 7-0 lead with 14:50 left in the first half. After going 0-9, Sean Evans (1 point) would finally put the Johnnies on the board going 1 for 2 from the foul line. D.J. Kennedy would give the Red Storm their first field goal with 13:50 remaining. A dunk by Dwayne Polee Jr. (2 points) and a 3-ball by Paris Horne would cap off an 8-0 run as St. John's took their first albeit brief lead, 8-7.
Jesse Berry would retake the lead for the Cardinals but Justin Brownlee would score both inside and from the perimeter to put the Red Storm back in front by 3 points. Ball State turnovers and a bucket by PG Malik Boothe (5 points, 4 assists) would extend the STJ lead to 5 points with 8:40 remaining in the half.
The Red Storm would increase their lead to 20-12 with good transition play but Cardinal PG Randy Davis would ignite a 5-0 run. Pierre Sneed (5 points, 2 rebs) and Jauwan Scaife (11 points, 5 rebs) would cut into the St. John's lead but Brownlee came up big leaving the Red Storm with a 34-22 halftime lead.
The first 45 seconds of the second half was helter skelter as both teams looked to control the tempo. Ball State committed a turnover but Brownlee would turn the ball back over which sparked a Cardinals comeback with 11:33 left in the game.
Berry would quickly score on an and-1 to cut the St. John's lead to 6 points. Fouls on Polee and Justin Burrell (6 points, 6 rebs) would result in points by Sneed and Jones and suddenly the Red Storm lead was cut to two. After a Polee miss, Malik Perry (7 points, 3 rebs) would knot the game at 50 with 7:21 on the clock.
Dwight Hardy would draw a foul on Berry and retake the lead going 1 for 2 from the charity stripe. Berry would counter with a basket plus the foul with 5:22 and give Ball State their first lead since early in the first half.
Ball State would increase their lead to 6 points with 3:33 but a three-ball by Kennedy and a post up move by Brownlee would tie the4 game at 63.
Brownlee would break the tie early with a midrange and baskets by Horne and Kennedy would extend the Red Storm lead to 5 points with 1:17 left in the first OT. A steal by Horne and a right to left hand lay-up would give St. John's a 72-65 lead with 49.7 left.
Forced to foul, Ball State put Hardy on the line three times. Hardy would go 5 of 6 down the stretch and the Red Storm would go on to win by five.
Brownlee led St. Johns' with 20 points and 8 rebounds followed by Kennedy with 15 points and Hardy contributing 14 points. Horne added 11 points off the bench. Berry led the Cardinals with 18 points with Jarrod Jones scoring 14 points and 9 assists.
The Red Storm will face Drake in Friday's semifinals at 9:30 p.m. EST (5:30 p.m. AST) for a spot in Saturday's championship.