Second-Half Heroics Lift St. John’s Over Nebraska, 70-50, In Stunning Fashion

The St. John’s Men’s Basketball team can be one of best — and worst — teams in the Big East. They showed both tonight, but the former prevailed.

Joel Soriano hangs from the rim against Nebraska.
Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan

The St. John’s Men’s Basketball team, to put it simply, looked lost and ineffective during the first half against Nebraska on Thursday night at Carnesecca Arena. It was a tale of two halves, as the Johnnies completely turned their play around enroute to a 70-50 win versus their first high-major opponent this season.

Both teams started out slow offensively, creating a low-scoring affair for much of the first half. St. John’s defensive prowess kept them in the game, but their inability to convert on scoring chances quickly caught up with them late in the opening period. 

“I feel like we were a little bit nervous,” senior center Joel Soriano said in a postgame media conference, referencing his team’s showing early in the game. “We weren’t knocking down shots and I feel like we were settling.”

By halftime, the Red Storm were unable to net a single three-point basket, and made just 23.5 percent of their shots from the field. The team appeared unable to step up in the face of their first real challenge of the 2022-23 season, but the game still remained in reach.

“Our first half was a little bit shaky,” said junior guard Andre Curbelo. 

But for the second straight game, the Johnnies emerged from the locker room for the second half with a new mindset and strategy — facilitating one of the best halves of basketball under head coach Mike Anderson’s tenure at St. John’s. 

Andre Curbelo guards a Nebraska player.
Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan

By the time the buzzer signaled the first media timeout in the second half, the team had already erased their seven-point first half deficit backed by a 14-2 scoring run. Junior guard Posh Alexander and Curbelo combined for three steals in that short span, causing the crowd at Carnesecca Arena to erupt.

“Our fans are great,” said Curbelo. “They do a great job keeping us in the game, and they were a big part of it being loud in the second half — they gave us energy.” 

The intensity that the Red Storm brought to the court early in the second half continued through the game’s final buzzer, in part due to the starters’ relentless attitude. Soriano in particular had a momentous night on the glass and in the paint — scoring 17 points and grabbing 18 rebounds, with both figures representing career highs. 

“I came out there with a good mindset,” Soriano said. “I just wanted to match [Nebraska’s] physicality, go out and play hard.” 

It was Soriano’s third double-double in four games this season, and his 18 rebounds were the most by a St. John’s player since at least 2005. 

“You could see he was really engaged in the game,” Anderson said of Soriano, who was so immersed in the contest that he was visibly discontent when his coach took him out of the game in the final minutes of play. After what fans can only assume were minutes of lobbying, Soriano returned to close out the game with a minute and a half remaining in regulation.

The Red Storm offense dropped 50 points in the second half, and shot at a 52.5-percent clip during that period. Jones, who was neutralized in the first half after succumbing to foul trouble early, powered the team’s 5-11 shooting from three-point range in the second half. It was more than just offensive execution: the team took care of the ball — surrendering just three turnovers — and never let the Cornhuskers find a rhythm offensively. 

“That second half was probably the best half of defense we’ve played all year long,” Anderson said. “The one thing they continue to do is play defense.” 

The result was a decisive victory against a quality Nebraska team. It comes despite St. John’s struggles in the first half, a trend seen in multiple games this season. At this point, it’s fair to wonder whether the Red Storm’s standing as a second-half team is a flaw or a feature.

“We want those last ten minutes,” Anderson said following the team’s prior game. This time, the Johnnies took the last 20 minutes, and in doing so emphasized their potential as not only one of the best teams in the Big East conference, but also one of best in the country. 

The St. John’s Men’s Basketball team returns to action on Monday, Nov. 21 when they take on Temple University as part of the Empire Classic in Brooklyn.