Behind a tremendous effort on the boards and a dominant firsthalf, the St. John’s men’s basketball team played its bestbasketball of the season out-muscling UCLA, 71-55 in front of 9,077win-starved fans at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
Elijah Ingram netted 21 points, 18 coming in the first half, onthe way to snapping the Red Storm’s awful seven game losingstreak.
“This was a long time coming for us,” St. John’s interim headcoach Kevin Clark said. “It was a terrific team win.”
The dry spell was finally broken for SJU and this win has beenthe lone bright spot in this so-far dismal season in which itsrecord is 5-13 overall and 0-7 in the Big East.
“It feels great,” said Cuffe, who scored 13 points and acareer-high 15 rebounds. “We are just glad we got [the win].”
The key to victory for the Johnnies were its total domination ofthe boards. They pushed around the Bruins down low, out-reboundingthem 49-30.
“The most disappointing stat was that they out-boarded us,” UCLAhead coach Ben Howland said. “That was a poor first half [for us].Give St. John’s credit; they came in with fire.”
The first session was all Storm as the Johnnies went intohalftime on an explosive 10-0 run that took the wind out of theBruins’ sails early.
“They broke our back in the first half,” UCLA forward CedricBozeman said.
The Red Storm’s first half catalyst was Ingram who drained fivethree-pointers and was seemingly unstoppable at times.
“Ingram was absolutely spectacular in the first half,” Howland,the former Pittsburgh coach said. “He’s a good player.”
The sophomore guard said it was simple: he just felt good. “Ihit a couple in a row,” said Ingram, who also added eight rebounds,four assists and stellar defense with three steals in what was aterrific overall performance. “I just built off the momentum andtook the shots that were there.”
St. John’s seemingly had their way with the Bruins especially onthe defensive end. The Red Storm forced 13 UCLA turnovers, whichled to 17 points for the home team.
“When we went to a timeout, one of the things we talked aboutwas how we got to where we were which was rebounding and defendingthe ball,” Clark said. “Games are games, but we did think we couldbe more physical with them.”
With 17.5 seconds left in the game and the Storm thoroughly incontrol, Clark called timeout and subbed in forward Tyler Jones andSJU’s four walk-ons, giving every player on the team a chance totaste victory in a season in which victory has been so sparse.
In a fitting end to an impressive win, walk-on Joe McDonalddrilled a three-pointer to beat the buzzer capping a 71-55 victoryand putting a smile on his teammates faces.
“To give them the opportunity to come out there is a greatfeeling,” Cuffe said.
“I think they earned it,” Ingram said. “To establish a big leadearly and to keep it was real important so that they could get intothe game. That was big for [all of us].”
After more than a few hard-fought losses, St. John’s came awaywith an easy victory for the first time this season.
“No one has blown them out,” Howland said. “They’re still a goodteam. They’re battle-hardened; they’re tough kids.”
After playing at Pittsburgh tonight, St. John’s will host BostonCollege at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon.
“We have always been knocking on the door,” SJU captain AndreStanley said. “Every game we were right there. We have been waitingto bust through the door and maybe hopefully this is it.”
Bruin BeatdownUCLA 55St. John’s 71