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Queens Chronicle

Johnnies end the season with a victory

St. John’s enters Big East Tournament play; hope of making NCAA’s fleeting

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Posted: Thursday, March 13, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:34 am, Thu Mar 20, 2014.

The NCAA tournament bubble for St. John’s has all but been popped, as the Red Storm’s lackluster resume will most likely be their downfall when the NCAA selection committee sets the field of 68 teams this Sunday.

Twenty wins is normally the benchmark when it comes to making a strong enough case for tournament considerations. Teams with fewers victories do often make the dance, but those squads most likely won their conference tournament and the automatic bid to the NCAA’s that comes with it.

In the Red Storm’s case, winning against rival Marquette in their regular season finale last Saturday would give them 20 wins and an opportunity to be considered for the postseason.

However, early season losses to average teams such as Providence and downright bad teams such as Penn State and Georgia Tech seemed to have done major damage to their chances of an NCAA tournament berth.

Many college basketball experts have said that St. John’s would need to advance to the finals of this week’s Big East Tournament to be considered strong contenders for the NCAA bracket.

But in the Johnnies’ finale against the Marquette Golden Eagles, the Red Storm certainly played like their tournament hopes rested solely on the game’s outcome.

With a loss certainly dooming St. John’s, they won their most dramatic game of the season, defeating Marquette 91-90 in double overtime.

The Red Storm ends the season with a 20-11 record, including a 10-8 mark in Big East play.

St. John’s and Marquette traded the lead 11 times throughout regulation, but the Red Storm managed to maintain the advantage until the Golden Eagles drained a game-tying shot at the buzzer to force the first overtime.

The two squads once again traded the lead repeatedly in the first extra period, but when St. John’s took a 78-74 lead with two minutes remaining, Marquette stormed back.

They took an 80-78 lead of their own with a little over one minute remaining, but an Orlando Sanchez basket and, after a Marquette free throw, freshman Rysheed Jordan sent the game into a second overtime with a free throw of his own with 15 seconds left.

In the second extra frame, the Johnnies erased a 90-87 deficit with 1:07 left on the strength of a dramatic, game-tying three-pointer from long distance by leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison. Rysheed Jordan added another free throw to seal the victory.

Harrison, Jordan and sophomore JaKarr Sampson all scored 20 points to lead the Red Storm, while guard Phil Greene IV contributed 11 points.

A 20-11 record and a tie for third in the conference standings is certainly nothing to sneeze at. The Red Storm won 20 games for just the second time in Steve Lavin’s four years as head coach, and another year of experience under the relatively young team’s belt should do next year’s team plenty of good.

“It’s a good core,” Lavin told me in the audience for Christ the King’s city semifinal matchup last week. “It’s a group you really want to build around.”

But when it comes to this season, the Johnnies won’t be dancing this month unless they win at least two games in the Big East Tournament (in which they are the fifth-seed) starting with today’s quarterfinal game against Providence, the tournament’s three-seed, at 2:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.

Despite the Red Storm’s tie for third in the conference standings, tiebreakers with Providence and Xavier, two teams St. John’s lost to this season, knocked the Johnnies down to fifth.

If St. John’s advances, the road only gets harder as the week progresses.

With a win over Providence, the Johnnies will advance to the tournament semifinals on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Garden, where they would play the winner of Thursday’s noon contest, which will pit top-seeded Villanova against the winner of Wednesday’s first-round game between DePaul and Georgetown.

The Big East Tournament can be seen on Fox Sports 1 in its entirety and the winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament next week.

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