EAST RUTHERFORD — St. John’s road curse took a disturbing turn Wednesday night.
Leading Seton Hall by 20 with 9:39 left, the Red Storm looked poised to break the 24-game streak at Continental Airlines Arena.
But instead, the Johnnies faltered down the stretch, the game was pushed to overtime on a buzzer beater by the Pirates’ Paul Gause, and the road losing streak reached the quarter-century mark after a 69-61 loss.
What caused the monumental collapse? What didn’t?
“We didn’t do a good job guarding in the second half,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said.
“We should’ve attacked the basket more,” Roberts said.
“We didn’t do a good job of handling the basketball,” Roberts said.
Seton Hall ended regulation on a devastating 23-4 run.
“You just gotta make a basket to stop the run,” Roberts said. “We didn’t do that.”
His team didn’t do much in the second half: the Storm was out-scored 40-23.
The key to the Pirates’ comeback encompassed all those things. But what allowed Seton Hall (9-3, 0-1) to do it in such a short amount of time was free-throw differential. The hosts made 32-of-48 free throws. St. John’s (7-5, 0-1) was 8-of-13. Kelly Whitney, Seton Hall’s high scorer with 23, was 11-of-14 himself.
Red Storm junior forward Aaron Spears had 15 points, only two of which came in the second half.
Pirates guard Donald Copeland had 20 points and Gause had seven. He also scored two for the opposing team, on an inbounds play where he stole the ball and promptly layed it up into the wrong basket. St. John’s sophomore Eugene Lawrence (14 points, 10 assists, eight turnovers) was given credit for it.
The Red Storm led 47-27 after Gause’s guffaw. Who knew that he would turn into the hero?
Seton Hall didn’t lead for all of regulation. But after Lawrence missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 23 seconds left and St. John’s leading 55-53, Gause got the ball on the left wing from Copeland on a broken play. He nailed a leaner as time expired.
“We played tough defense,” said Roberts of the regulation-ending play. “They had nothing.”
Nothing was enough to send the game into overtime, where Seton Hall out-scored St. John’s 14-6. The wind was clearly taken out of the Johnnies and the crowd of 6,092, quiet through most, turned rabid.
With junior guard Daryll Hill out with a knee injury and sophomore guard Cedric Jackson fouling out with 3:31 left in regulation, St. John’s was left with only one person experienced enough to handle the ball against the Hall’s pesky press: Lawrence. That did not bode well and the Pirates took advantage. They forced St. John’s into 23 turnovers, 13 of which came in the second half and OT.
“We got careless with the basketball,” Roberts said.
A scary notion for a St. John’s team that, without its leading scorer, looked like it had its conference opener sealed. An extremely positive notion for Seton Hall coach Louis Orr, who has not gotten much support from his school or fans: a “Fire Louie!” chant erupted early in the second half with the Pirates down big.
The win won’t hurt his players’ morale either.
“They have a game they can remember for the rest of their lives,” Orr said.
For the Johnnies, it will be one they try desperately to forget.