The St. John’s Red Storm wreak havoc on St. Joseph’s Hawks NIT hopes in a 63-61 thriller

(Michael Perez/AP Photo)

St. Johns SirDominic Pointer (15) shoots the game-winning basket at the buzzer against Saint Josephs in a first-round NIT college basketball game Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in Philadelphia. St. Johns won 63-61. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />

St. John’s Sir’ Dominic Pointer pulls up for the game-winning basket — ending St. Joe’s season.

The St. John’s Red Storm basketball program endured a rough stretch to end their regular season. Suspensions losses in seven of eight games landed coach Steve Lavin and his team into the NIT against the St. Joe’s Hawks. In the opening round, the Red Storm came into Hagan Arena and shocked the Hawks 63-61.

Phil Martelli’s group entered the first round of the NIT looking to impose their will on a struggling St. John’s team. The Red Storm started three sophomores and two freshmen. In the end, St. John’s would land the kill shot — silencing the 3,200 in attendance. The Red Storm advanced to the second-round and snapped a five-game losing streak.

Things went according to script in the first half. St. Joe’s jumped out to an early lead. The Hawks weren’t threatened by the Red Storm initially. The Hawks’ offense was generated through the energetic back court of Carl Jones (21 points) and Langston Galloway (16 points). The duo combined for 23 first half points and combined to hit 5-7 from beyond the arc. The Hawks shot 48 percent in the first half and controlled the boards with a 21-14 advantage. Hawks forward Halil Kanacevic grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds.

The Red Storm fought their way back into the game, outscoring St. Joe’s 16-10, but still trailed 32-26 at the half.

Back-to-back threes pushed the Hawks lead to 40-28 with 18:26 remaining. It was the Hawks’ largest of the game. Over the next 12 minutes, St. John’s chipped away at the lead by creating scoring opportunities in the paint and getting in the shirts of Jones and Galloway. The hot-shooting back court was rendered useless in the second half and before Phil Martelli could blink, the Hawks double-digit lead dwindled down to a one possession cliffhanger.

Four points in succession by Amir Garrett (5 points) pushed St. John’s ahead 57-56 with 3:06 remaining. The Red Storm locked down the paint with timely rebounding and blocked shots (9). St. John’s was the less experienced team, but in the waning minutes, it was the Hawks who tightened. One of the Red Storm players leading the charge was JaKarr Sampson — who finished with 16 points and 5 rebounds.

Missed free throws and the lack of open looks only deepened the hole for St. Joe’s. The Hawks shot 30 percent from the field and 38 percent from three-point range in the second half.

With the Red Storm clinging to a 61-59 lead Hawks forward Ronald Roberts (10 points, 7 rebounds) was fouled with ten seconds remaining. Roberts sank both free throws to tie the game at 61. On the game’s final possession, St. John’s sophomore Sir’ Dominic Pointer (15 points, 7 rebounds) sank a jumper from the left side, midway between the rim and the baseline as time expired. After a brief review, the basket was declared good.

(Michael Perez/AP Photo)

Minnesota v Saint Joseph

An early exit from the NIT wasn’t what Phil Martelli had in mind.

Phil Martelli spoke after the game about the frustration of scoring only seven points in the game’s final six minutes.

“I think there was some decision making that was a little off. We knew we couldn’t get to the rim here — they had nine blocked shots. We wanted to get into the teeth of their defense and make a play. We tightened, even at the end of shot clock plays. At the end of this, we’re walking out of here with a loss and we held a team to 63 points. This is college basketball — you have to score the ball.

(Andrew Theodorakis/New York Daily News)

Steve Lavin has made a full recovery from prostate cancer surgery and is looking forward to bigger things at St. John’s.

Steve Lavin couldn’t be more pleased with his young group.  His team showed great resilience in a hostile environment. Hagan Arena may hold approximately 3,500 spectators, but they’re on your back and in your face at every opportunity. Lavin gushed at his team’s willingness not to break, in spite of their late season misfortunes.

“It’s one of those interesting things, sometimes in teaching we seek the progress and the breakthroughs within the program — whether it’s individual growth or collectively. There has to be evidence on a daily basis that our kids are growing. I felt we were making progress all along even if we didn’t see the breakthroughs in wins — which is tough because we live in a bottom-line society. In the evolution of our program and where our kids are in their development, you want a breakthrough win. This will pay big dividends going into next year.”

Lavin is returning to the sidelines after a scare with prostate cancer. Having such a young team has allowed Lavin to feed off his players and vice versa.

“It’s been a challenging year, but it will be as memorable as any season I’ve had because I enjoy working with this group so much. I can see their potential, their promise and their upside. I enjoy being with this group on a daily basis. I know right now we’re capable of 22-23 wins.”

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