The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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St. John’s survives UMass second-half explosion

St. John’s first-half effort gave it the opportunity to cruise to another Panasonic Holiday Festival title, as it did a year ago against North Carolina State.


This year would not be as easy.


A consistent UMass second-half attack forced St. John’s to have to execute in the final minute to secure a 51-49 win over the Minutemen last night at Madison Square Garden. The victory gives St. John’s its second straight Holiday Festival title and a record 14th all-time.


“This is a big accomplishment because we are a building team,” said Eugene Lawrence, the tournament most valuable player. “We are sending a message to other teams that we are here to make some noise.”


While Lawrence did not have impressive numbers, only nine points, it was what he did on the court and not on the scoreboard that earned him the award.


“Everything runs through him,” UMass coach Travis Ford said. “I was very impressed. He deserved the MVP.”


Lawrence needed some help from his teammates to secure the honor, though.


St. John’s (7-4) led 27-14 at halftime and held UMass (6-3) to 19-percent shooting from the field. But the Minutemen closed the gap by capitalizing on a less-intense St. John’s perimeter defense and by getting the Johnnies frontcourt players in foul trouble in the second half. All-Tournament selection Stephane Lasme scored 11 of his team-high 15 points after halftime and sparked a 12-4 Minutemen run that tied the game at 49-49 with 1:38 left to play.


Aaron Spears would dive on the floor for a loose ball and called the Red Storm’s final timeout with a minute remaining. On the ensuing play, St. John’s executed what Roberts drew up. But when the first set broke down, the team went to Plan B √¢?” twice.


“My first option is the shot,” said Hamilton, who led St. John’s with 12 points, about the back-up play. “My second option is to dump it down low.”


Lawrence slipped coming off a Hamilton screen, but was able to get the ball to the junior forward at the foul line. Hamilton then found an open Spears under the rim for the easy game-winning basket with 32.5 seconds left.


“I think we made winning plays tonight.” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “It shows you that guys are thinking on the court.”


St. John’s would have to sweat out freshman Anthony Mason Jr. turning the ball over on an inbounds play after a Lasme illegal screen gave the Red Storm the ball back.


“We didn’t hang our head when things went wrong,” Roberts said. "It didn’t matter that the ball went out of bounds. We knew we could guard and just defend.”


Chris Lowe’s floater in the lane with 2.6 seconds left would be blocked by Hamilton and then tipped away by Mason.


“When a team comes back the way we did, sometimes it takes a lot out of you,” Ford said. “They survived it. It says a lot about their team.”


Last season, St. John’s had an easier time defeating the 17th-rank
ed Wolfpack, 63-45. The Red Storm held N.C. State to a similar halftime score of 27-10 on 13-percent shooting from the field. But more contests like this year’s title game await St. John’s when the team opens its Big East schedule on Jan. 4 against Seton Hall at the Meadowlands.


“There are going to be games just like this,” Roberts said. “I think this game really prepares us for the Big East schedule.”

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