Despite sophomore guard Larry Wright’s 15-point performance, the St. John’s men’s basketball team dropped its third consecutive Big East conference game against the Mountaineers of West Virginia 73-64 at the WVU Coliseum last Wednesday.
West Virginia’s veteran team proved too much for the young Red Storm (7-9, 1-4 Big East) as the Mountaineers (13-4, 3-2) buckled down in the second half. Sophomore forward Da’Sean Butler shot 7-of-12 from the field and stroked 3-of-4 from downtown en route to his game-high 19 points and nine rebounds.
Also aiding the Mountaineers’ win were junior forward Joe Alexander, who finished with 15 points, as well as senior guard Darris Nichols and freshman forward John Flowers, who each contributed 10 points.
St. John’s came out strong against the Mountaineers, but the intensity dwindled early on in the opening five minutes of the second half. At the 15:22 mark, a three pointer by Butler sparked a 19-6 run that ended at the 7:44 mark with a three-pointer by Flowers and a 12-point lead for the Mountaineers, 55-43.
“We played intense in the first half [and] we should have done a better job executing in the second half,” said St. John’s head coach Norm Roberts. “When you’re young that happens… you don’t have time to recoup in the second half. Everything is much more costly.”
Freshman forward Justin Burrell, the usual threat down low for the Red Storm, was plagued by foul trouble and ultimately fouled out with 4:56 remaining in the game on a questionable call. The Mountaineers saw its largest lead seconds later at the 4:32 mark of the second period, 62-49.
“[The team] came out in the first half and played real good, but let it slip away,” said Sean Evans, the freshman reserve who substituted for Burrell at key times and finished with eight points and six boards. “Coach emphasized playing hard and smart the whole 40 minutes and making smart plays.”
Despite the 14 points and five rebounds by junior forward Anthony Mason, Jr. and the nine points and 11 assists by senior guard Eugene Lawrence, the aggressive nature of the West Virginia defense forced 17 St. John’s turnovers. The Mountaineers converted those errors into 15 points.
“We played hard, but made ill-advised turnovers,” said Roberts. “Key plays come down to five or six possessions or people get beat. We have to make key plays at key times, get stops and score when we get those opportunities.
The Red Storm finished 39.6 percent from the field (21-of-53), 38.5 percent from the arc (5-of-13) and 73.9 percent from the line (17-of-23). The Red Storm out-rebounded West Virginia (39-30) and used those extra boards to open up scoring opportunities to make more second-chance points than the Mountaineers (10-4).
“We have to concentrate on getting better [and] we have to be consistent, stay strong and confident,” Roberts said. “We have been playing hard to get us in the position to win. Now we have to get over the hump.”The Johnnies led by as much as eight points at the 10:32 mark in the first half after a pair of free throws by freshman guard Paris Horne. St. John’s battled in the paint, but the Mountaineers fought back, taking the lead down the stretch. With six seconds remaining before halftime, freshman guard Malik Boothe made a lay-up on an open drive tying the score 29-all.
“I think this game gave a lot of experience to [the freshmen],” Evans said. “It gave us the confidence we needed to go into the next couple of Big East games.”