As cursed as St. John’s was against Ohio State in the last three seasons, the curse for Hofstra against St. John’s was 19 losses and zero victories. For the first time since the 1996-1997 season the Red Storm entered its game against Hofstra Saturday afternoon with the possibility of having a losing record.
Playing a “home game” at the Nassau Coliseum, that possibility was realized as SJU dropped to 4-5 losing 86-80 to the Pride (6-2).
Senior forward Norman Richardson struggled from the field going 5-of-15 from the field, but led Hofstra with 22 points, including 10-of-14 from the free throw line.
“It’s a big win for the seniors because we had lost to them the last two years,” Richardson said. “We came out to get a win and to get one against a program with a reputation and history like St. John’s is huge for us.”
At half-time the Red Storm led 42-36 and appeared it was in control as it took a seven point lead (43-36) to start out the second half. However Hofstra went on a 22-8 run which gave it a 61-54 lead with 11:12 remaining.
For the next seven minutes Hofstra maintained a lead, as the Red Storm was only able to tie the game twice in that span.
With 4:38 remaining, Roberto Gittens received a bounce pass from Rick Apodaca and he slammed it home with authority to give Hofstra a 74-70 lead.
St. John’s was able cut the lead to two on an Omar Cook lay-up, but Richardson answered back with a three. That gave Hofstra a five point lead and Hofstra would never look back.
When Jason Hernandez made a lay-up with 1:19 remaining, it gave them a 83-76 lead and Hofstra remained in control for the six point win.
The senior leadership was evident for Hofstra as the three seniors, Jason Hernandez, Roberto Gittens and Richardson each had double figures.
“We have great senior leadership,” Head Coach Jay Wright said. “They talked to the team before the game and again at half-time. They just convinced the guys they were going to win.”
The Red Storm was led by freshman Willie Shaw who was replaced in the starting lineup by Alpha Bangura. Shaw finished with a season-high 28 points, went 10-of-14 from the field and had 18 points at half-time.
“The 28 (points) doesn’t bother me, the 18 (points) in the first half bothered me, because we were trying to keep Omar out of it, and we knew Willie could score,” Wright said. “I just didn’t think we were doing a good enough job just man to man on Willie.”
Head Coach Mike Jarvis was so impressed with the performance of Shaw that he compared him to Boston Celtics legend John Havlicek. “I was hoping to say that this century’s version of Havlicek arrived and he led us to victory,” Jarvis said. “He did arrive, with a name of Willie Shaw.”
“I needed some firepower off the bench and Willie gave us that,” Jarvis said. “We just got beat today by a determined group of young men who will enjoy this to the day they die, because that’s how important it is to beat St. John’s.”
For St. John’s more changes are planned according to Jarvis. One area of prime concern for him is SJU’s anemic rebounding numbers. “Don’t be surprised if the next game we play, that Anthony Glover is back in the center position,” Jarvis said. “Because we used to rebound pretty good when we had a 6’5 center”.
In the past week Glover has felt that team isn’t all together. After today’s game his feeling had remained unchanged.
“I think some of these guys are on one page,” Glover said. “Until we get everybody on the same page we’re going to have a hard season.”
Nine games in, the signs are pointing to a difficult season. On Thursday, Dec. 21 SJU will host the Manhattan Jaspers (3-3) at Alumni Hall.
Amid the pressure of taking finals, an additional challenge is upon the Red Storm, remembering how to win.