Despite holding as much as a 15-point advantage over the competition, St. John's squeaked out a win over Brown yesterday, 79-76, at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y.
The thrilling nightcap was the first of three installments of the Philly Hoop Group Classic.
The Red Storm (3-0, 0-0 BIG EAST) saw a repeat of the St. Bonaventure match-up when playing Brown (1-3, 0-0 IVY) on Friday, as the contest was, ultimately, preserved by a pair at the charity stripe by junior point guard Malik Boothe (10 points, seven rebounds).
A questionable offensive foul called on junior guard Dwight Hardy (16 points) gave Brown the ball at the 1:38 mark of the second half. Brown's freshman forward Tucker Halpern (10 points) gave the Johnnies a slight scare when he sank a 3-pointer with 1:13 remaining.
The play brought the game to its closest margin since the double-digit deficit, 75-74.
St. John's junior swingman D.J. Kennedy (15 points) quickly answered using the baseline for a slam dunk opportunity to extend the Johnnies' lead to three points, 77-74, with 56 seconds on the clock.
Halpern came up big again for Brown with a jumper with 41 seconds remaining to chip the Johnnies advantage down to one point.
On St. John's next possession, Brown's senior guard Steve Gruber (14 points) fouled Boothe near the half-court line and sent him to the charity stripe with 18 seconds left in regulation. Boothe hit the front-end of the one-and-one and earned and made the second opportunity.
The Johnnies implemented an intense man-to-man pressure defense, forcing Brown's junior guard Adrian Williams to attempt and miss an ill-advised trey with one second on the clock.
"We played good defense on them in the first half and then they made some shots. They gained confidence," head coach Norm Roberts said. "We had some spurts in the second half and broke it open, but couldn't keep it going. We made some great toughness plays and Sean [Evans] did a great job at the free throw line and made some big ones for us."
St. John's junior forward Sean Evans had a substantial performance with 14 points, muscling himself in the middle while scoring on putbacks and drawing fouls. Evans went 8-for-10 from the free throw line and had a game-high nine boards.
"Coach is always telling me to be aggressive because I can score the ball and rebound," Evans said. "I just took what I had and I think I did a good job. I've been putting in the work and its starting to pay off."
Brown's junior forward Peter Sullivan, who led all scorers with 17 points, had a huge second stanza netting 12 points in the half alone. Sullivan nailed two 3-pointers in the second half and went 6-for-6 from the line. St. John's committed fouls, some cheap, others questionable, during the second-half stretch, which allowed Brown to cut the lead down to as little as one in the final minutes.
The score was 42-32 at the half, in favor of the Johnnies.
St. John's, led by the offensive power of Hardy, created a 15-point advantage by the 2:25 mark of the first half. Hardy went 4-for-5 from the perimeter in the first stanza alone.
"I just wanted to bring energy on both ends of the floor," Hardy said. "We really wanted to get out to a good lead. The past couple of games we had a couple of leads but then they ended up slipping away. Unfortunately, it happened to us tonight but we just want to continue to get better and be able to force our will when we are up 13, 14 points and extend our lead to 20, 30 points."
Overall, St. John's made Brown pay in transition forcing 21 turnovers and converting those errors into 27 points. The Johnnies shot 40.6 percent (28-for-69) from the field and 90 percent (18-for-20) from the line.
St. John's hits the road again to round out the remaining games of the Philly Hoop Group Classic. The Johnnies will play Siena on Nov. 27 at 5:30 p.m. and Temple on Nov. 28 at 8:30 p.m. at The Palestra in Philadelphia, Pa.
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