UCan’t do it just yet

STORRS, CONN.- Everything was going right for the St. John’s Red Storm (7-6, 1-1) at Gampel Pavilion against the tenth ranked Connecticut Huskies (12-2, 1-1) Saturday afternoon, or so it seemed.

In another chapter of the rivalry, the Huskies shot 62 percent from the field in the second half, as UConn rallied from a 40-31 half-time deficit to force overtime and eventually come away victorious 82-80, before a crowd of 10,027 at Gampel Pavillion.

In the first half things were going in favor of the Red Storm. Despite only shooting 41 percent from the field, the St. John’s jumped out to a 40-31 lead at the half.
Slowly the Huskies began to make their run. Using a 22-12 run the Huskies took its first lead since the early first half at 53-52 with 11:21 remaining. After Donald Emanuel blocked a Taliek Brown lay-up, Caron Butler rebounded and hit a jumper.

The Huskies weren’t done. UConn scored the next seven points to take a 60-52 lead with 8:53 remaining.

True to form of SJU-UConn games of recent seasons, the Red Storm made a run of its own. Going on a 18-10 run, St. John’s tied the game up at 70 with 2:34 remaining. Willie Shaw, who finished with a team high 25 points, hit a three that tied the game.

The final two and a half minutes were as exciting as a game could get. Both teams played a game of can you top this.

With 32 seconds remaining and SJU up 72-70, freshman Kyle Cuffe received a pass from forward Anthony Glover and put it home with authority on a two-handed dunk.

Down by four the Huskies needed a lot to go right. It did as the point guard Omar Cook missed two foul shots in the final seconds of regualation.

Still the Huskies needed more to go right as it trailed by three, 75-72, with 11 seconds left.

After Omar Cook’s missed jumper, the basketball went right by Kyle Cuffe who made a freshman mistake of letting the ball go. The referees ruled that the ball went out of bounds on SJU, giving the Huskies the time it needed to make something happen.

“We made a couple of mental mistakes, Kyle Cuffe not picking the ball up because he thought it was off of them,” Head Coach Mike Jarvis said. “He should have just picked it up, but that’s a freshman.”

Something did happen, of momentous proportions. With eight seconds remaining the Huskies pushed the ball upcourt where it found its way into the hands of the one player SJU didn’t want it in: Caron Butler.

With Alpha Bangura playing as aggressive as possible, Butler launched and hit a three as time expired, forcing overtime.

“I think it was one of those situations, coach put me in a position to prove what I’ve been working all my life for,” Butler said after the game. “Mentally I was ready for it, and physically I took the challenge and made the shot.”

“We wanted to play aggressive but we didn’t want to foul the three-point shooter,” Alpha Bangura said. “I didn’t have a lot of confidence in his shot.”

“The one guy I didn’t want to see with the ball at the end was him [Butler],” Jarvis said. “Anyone else I think we might have won.”

If the end of regulation wasn’t drama enough, the overtime continued the drama. Tied at 80 with 1:38 the Huskies won the game at the foul line. Souleymane Wane came into the game a 60 percent foul shooter, but he made two of four foul shots, which turned out to be enough for the win.

The Red Storm had three chances for the win, but missed on all of them. A jumper by Omar Cook fell short, then Bangura and Glover each attempted to use their muscle, but they ran into a force, the Huskies interior defense.
The play on those possessions was so intense. Jarvis thought a foul should have been called and he ran onto the court to demonstrate his feelings. Jarvis declined comments in the postgame press conference.

Despite the loss, the Red Storm remained positive afterwards. “I’m mad we lost, we should have won,” Cook said. “We played so hard, you can’t just look at the negatives, because you can see many positives.”

Jarvis was also in agreement. “I don’t believe in moral victories anymore than my players do, but I do believe in improvement,” Jarvis said. “I see guys being less and less selfish. I’m starting to enjoy watching our guys play.”

For the Huskies, Johnnie Selvie led the attack with 26 points on 10-of-12 from the field. Among those shots was one of the most memorable shots of the game.

With 2:46 remaining and UCONN up 68-67, Selvie hit an over the shoulder, no look desperation jumper as the shot clock ran out. His shot gave them a 70-67 lead. “I swear to God, I knew it was going in because I had rotation and everything,” he said. “I just shot it because somebody yelled, shoot the ball John! I knew it was going to go in though.”

This game showed Connecticut Head Coach Jim Calhoun and his team that the focus and teamwork must always be there. “Nothing satisfies me greater than having people working hard together to get something done, and today we did that,” Calhoun said.

The game also showed Jarvis that the Red Storm are learning. “It would have been a great victory. I told our kids that if we were able to get the lead again coming down the stretch we would win the game,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to be yet, but it’s going to happen, this team is going to be really good before it’s over.”

For the Red Storm its next opponent might be just as tough. The Boston College Eagles are up on Wednesday at 7:30 at Madison Square Garden. With sophomore point averaging 21.4 ppg, the Eagles have started out 10-0, BC’s best start since 1984-1985.