NEW YORK – There wasn’t a great deal on the X and O side to discuss. St. John’s, from tap to buzzer, simply wanted it more. The Red Storm snapped a nine-game losing streak to UCONN, defeating the Huskies 73-51 in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. “It was a hard physical game,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “Our guys made plays all day.”
The Red Storm led 35-22 at the break and outside of a brief run or two, were never severely threatened. Sean Evans had a huge game inside with a 19-point, 10-rebound effort to pace St. John’s. The Red Storm placed three in double figures and one, junior forward Justin Brownlee, stepped up to supply 13 points off the bench.
Kemba Walker paced UCONN with 12 points, but was a largely ineffective 4 of 17 from the field. Stanley Robinson added 10 points but was basically a non-factor. The Huskies shot 38 percent from the floor and were guilty of 20 turnovers.
“St. John’s came out with a purpose,” UCONN coach Jim Calhoun said. “They were hungrier.” The Red Storm, not known for prowess beyond the arc, were 7 of 13 from three point range.
From the X and O standpoint a key factor was St. John’s excellent defense on ball screens. “We wanted to stop the penetration of Walker and (Jerome) Dyson,” Roberts said. They did that to virtual perfection.
The win puts the Red Storm at 17-14. They will face Marquette at 2:30 on Wednesday. UCONN fell to 17-15.
Calhoun said an NIT bid is something he and his staff will discuss. “No disrespect to the NIT,” Calhoun said. “We won it in 1988 and it jump-started our program. Right now we as a staff will sit down and discuss which direction we want to go.”
The eight games of four points or less – all losses – plus the campaign highlighted by inconsistency, has weighed heavily on the entire UCONN program. “For now,” Calhoun said, “there will be no practice the next few days.”
Awards were given following the afternoon doubleheader. Lance Stephenson of Cincinnati earned Rookie of the Year. Syracuse made a big splash with Wes Johnson getting Player of the Year and Jim Boeheim Coach of the Year. Hamady Ndiaye of Rutgers earned Defensive Player of the Year.