The quest for a second straight Final Four appearance came to an abrupt halt for the Red Storm, who fell in the third round of the NCAA Tournament on Dec. 1 in a 1-0 overtime loss to Creighton at Belson Stadium.
“Any loss is tough,” St. John’s Head Coach Dave Masur said, “especially a season-ending loss.”
Despite making the Sweet 16 for the seventh consecutive season, the Johnnies (13-3-5) postseason run ended with two minutes remaining in the extra period, when Creighton’s (17-3-2) Mehdi Ballouchy took a pass from Mike Tranchilla at the top of the box and rocketed a shot past SJU keeper Bill Gaudette.
Gaudette got his fingertips on it, but a gusting wind, which caused problems for both sides, took the ball away from Gaudette and into the bottom right corner of the net.
“He had the ball at the top after a mix-up and he bent it into the wind and it ended up in the lower corner of the goal,” Gaudette said.
The Creighton freshman agreed the wind played a factor in his game-winning effort.
“I did try to bend it and the wind kind of helped it a little bit,” Ballouchy said.
Both teams tried to mount attacks through the bitter cold and blustery conditions, and while St. John’s seemed to have control in terms of time of possession, there were only a few quality chances on goal.
The Red Storm’s best chances came in the 39th minute, when a header by Matia Damiani was stopped by Bluejay keeper Mike Gabb; in the 47th minute when Rich Bradley’s shot just missed high and in the 54th minute when another shot by Damiani was saved.
Still, there was no blaming the weather for the lack of offensive production.
“Of course it’s difficult when it’s cold and windy like that,” Red Storm junior captain Chris Wingert said. “I don’t think it played too much of a factor in the game. They had to play with the same conditions we did.”
And Creighton took advantage of a rare counter against a St. John’s defense that had posted a school-record 13 shutouts on the season and just nine goals all year.
Ballouchy passed the ball ahead to Tranchilla, then sprinted 50 yards to get the return pass, which was deflected by a SJU player.
“I crossed it in, I think it hit one of their players which set it up perfect for Mehdi and he just knocked it right past the keeper,” Tranchilla said.
The loss was the first on-campus defeat for the Johnnies since a 1-0 decision to Pittsburgh on Sept. 9, 2000 – a span of 19 games.
“They’re tough to play against, they play relentless defense, they press you all the time and make it very difficult to play,” Bluejay Head Coach Bob Warming said. “Our players were confident that it was going to be a tough game but we knew we were good enough it win it.”
Creighton advanced to take on Boston College, which defeated Southern Methodist, 5-4, on penalty kicks.