The NCAA Tournament is slip-sliding away, and St. John’s knows it.
Each game can fall into the category of a must-win, and facing a Virginia Tech team that had yet to win a road game and is tied for last place in the division, a victory seemed almost a certainty.
But the Hokies (10-11, 3-5) were coming off a victory over Connecticut and carried that momentum into Alumni Hall and left with a 71-54 win over the Johnnies (11-8, 4-5) last Saturday afternoon.
The loss was the third-worst in the 42-year history of Alumni Hall – only a 20-point defeat to Boston College in 1983 and a 23-point drubbing by Loyola (IL) in 1963 were more lopsided.
But the margin of victory wasn’t what St. John’s Head Coach Mike Jarvis had a problem with. It wasn’t necessarily the turnovers, rebounding margin or shooting percentage. It was the energy, or lack thereof, that was upsetting.
“Hopefully the next time we play, we’ll play.” Jarvis said. “Play with a lot more enthusiasm, a lot more passion, a lot smarter, a lot tougher – a lot of everything.
“No one guy was responsible for the fact that we didn’t have the kind of energy that we have to have.”
The Red Storm put on a lackluster performance – yet was able to stay close throughout the game.
“We know we’re capable of playing better, we just didn’t show it today,” co-captain Anthony Glover said. “It’s frustrating.”
“It’s a reality check,” Marcus Hatten said. “Everybody has to look within themselves and understand what they have to do and bring it to the table for the rest of these games.”
St. John’s had a 2-0 lead before the opening tip, because Tech’s Bryant Matthews received a technical for dunking in pre-game warmups.
The lead was short-lived, however, and even though the Johnnies kept the score close while Hatten, who didn’t start because he was late to practice the day before the game due to snow, sat on the bench for the first five minutes.
Abe Keita, who got a rare start at center, made the most of the opportunity and scored four quick points.
Hatten hit a three-pointer at the 10:44 mark to give SJU a 15-14 lead, but the Hokies went on a 9-1 run and raced out to a 35-26 halftime lead. Virginia Tech had a 13-point second half lead before the Red Storm started to close the gap.
Grady Reynolds hit a bank shot, Elijah Ingram followed with a three and Kyle Cuffe and Hatten both had dunks to punctuate a mini-run. The Johnnies closed to as many as three, but the Hokies were able to withstand the charge, going on two separate runs to put the game away.
“We knew this was a very difficult place to play against a very talented team,” Virginia Tech Head Coach Ricky Stokes said. “We made some key plays down the stretch to be able to hold on to the victory.”
Virginia Tech was able to hold on when SJU went into a five-minute funk where they only scored three points, allowing the Tech lead to balloon into double-digits.
“It’s a two-possession game with four or five minutes to go,” Jarvis said. “Tonight’s another game we could’ve won.”
Hatten led all scorers with 27 points. Keita and Ingram were next on the team with six points apiece. Matthews’ 22 points led Virginia Tech, while Carlos Dixon, Terry Taylor and Dimari Thompkins all finished in double-figures.
The Red Storm will host Providence Saturday afternoon at Alumni Hall. Tip-off is 2 p.m.