St. John's turns tables, beats Rutgers at its own strengths in wild 61-59 finish
JAMAICA, N.Y. — As much as Eddie Jordan expressed the disappointment in his team's late meltdown, the Rutgers head men's basketball coach gave credit where it was due to the opponent.
The Scarlet Knights (2-1) had their obvious flaws in a 61-59 collapse on the road at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, but St. John's did enough to take advantage when it mattered most.
"They had more stability than we did and they did a lot of great things down the stretch," Jordan said. "... They countered post-ups, they went to the glass. But you look on the other side of the court and we didn't get rebounds and we missed free throws. So we helped them beat us."
While his players embraced the blame, they also admitted that the Red Storm did what Rutgers couldn't.
"I give credit to St. John's. They're a very good team," said sophomore guard Mike Williams. "But it came down to we just got rattled, and we just gotta keep our composure. They fed off the energy and we started costly turnovers and that's how we lost the game."
After a woeful first half shooting the ball, St. John's (3-0) pulled it together late in the second half to capitalize on the Knights' mistakes.
The Johnnies had three scorers in double-digits. Federico Mussini kept the 4,540 packed in the tight 5,600-seat Carnesecca Arena on their feet with his timely 3-point shots fueling his 13 points and seven rebounds on the night.
But as Jordan mentioned, St. John's beat Rutgers where it had previously thrived in the first half.
The Red Storm turned the tables in the second half, out-rebounding the Knights 50-39 on the glass. Yankuba Sima (13 points, 9 rebounds) and Ron Mvouika (12 points, 10 rebounds) led the initiative for the home team, beating up on Rutgers' bigs in the low post down the stretch.
"That was a key factor," said sophomore forward D.J. Foreman, who had nine points and eight rebounds. "We didn't come out with heart in the second half and (St. John's) just wanted it more."
Rutgers outmuscled St. John's with points in the paint, 32-24, but stalled for just 12 points in the second half after dominating the inside with 20 points in the first.
As senior center Greg Lewis went 0-for-4 from the field and grabbed only one rebound, backup center Ibrahima Diallo saw increased time on the floor. But the redshirt freshman fell into trouble, ultimately picking up five personal fouls before fouling out in 14 minutes.
Jordan defended the lack of Lewis showing up on the stat sheet, pointing to his senior captain's tenacity and energy as a defender where he tallied a block and a steal on the night.
"Greg is a solid anchor for us, defensively, so I don't have any problem with Greg," Jordan said. "Sometimes he boxes out and other people have to get the rebound. But he's a solid player, he's a terrific kid and so I won't have any ill will toward Greg Lewis."
After sticking with the same starting lineup for the first two games, Jordan shook things up against St. John's.
Rutgers started Sanders (30 minutes), Williams (33 minutes), junior forward Deshawn Freeman (28 minutes), Foreman (24 minutes) and Lewis (23 minutes).
Against Rutgers-Newark and Howard, the third-year head coach keep his starting five a constant with Williams, senior guard Bishop Daniels, freshman forward Jonathan Laurent, Foreman and Lewis.
Aside from his prized class of 2015 recruits in a former four-star ESPN Top 100 point guard, Sanders, and a four-star junior college forward, Freeman, making their respective first career starts with the Knights, Jordan made an interesting move when he favored a smaller lineup on the court.
With Sanders, Williams and Daniels spread out at the guards, Rutgers received an athletic and lively look on the floor. That was evident in Daniels' career-high 21 points and eight rebounds off the bench.
Most of the time, Daniels was able to run free. The Raleigh, North Carolina, native attacked the rim on aggressive penetrations into the lane and on transition buckets off of fast breaks.
His 14 points in the first half jolted the Knights to a 33-26 lead at halftime, topped off with his acrobatic reverse layup that fell in gracefully from the front of the rim to keep the momentum away from St. John's after a short 11-7 run by the Red Storm brought Carnesecca Arena back to life.
"(The lineup change) was great. It was great for Bishop. We had a talk and I told him, when he comes off, he's in a different mode now," Jordan said. "He's in attack mode, drive, has to defer to Corey (Sanders) or to Mike (Williams) or to Deshawn (Freeman) and he did a good job of it. I'm proud of him."
Williams pitched in 13 points where he shot 5-for-10 from the field with a 3-of-7 clip from 3-point land.
As far as their perimeter defense was concerned — one that increased when Jordan went with the three-guard look in the smaller lineup — the Johnnies shot just 8-of-24 (33.3 percent) from beyond the arc.
"It was just that we closed out late," Williams said. "It's better to contest late than not contest at all."
The last minute is always the longest in basketball, but this one felt like an eternity.
Part of it was because Rutgers blew a double-digit lead that blossomed to as high as 16 points over the course of a game that it led for 34:29 of the 40 minutes on the court, but what transpired in the final plays was difficult to digest all at once.
As St. John's took its first lead of the game since the 13:19 mark in the first half on two free throws with less than a minute left, the Red Storm gained a narrow 60-59 edge over the Knights.
Felix Balamou could have iced the game for St. John's, but missed both free throws after he was sent to the line with the Red Storm in the double bonus. Jordan then burned his final timeout before Rutgers was set to inbound from its own baseline with 15.9 seconds remaining.
Off the timeout, Daniels brought the ball up the floor but fumbled it in the midst of contact that might have merited a foul. Sanders picked it up, but ran into suspected contact as he tried to push the ball up further with the Knights past the mid-court and St. John's started running the other way.
"Bishop gets the ball at full court and I guess he forgot the guy was behind him, so it was a greedy play," Jordan said.
Daniels tipped his hat to the defense, but thought the Red Storm got away with a potential foul call.
"The two last plays, I give credit to their defense," he said. "But I think it should've went the other way because of foul situations. I mean, they got the home court advantage, so I can't disagree with that. And then the second play, I think was a lack of awareness with the time on the clock."
What Daniels was alluding to is the wild sequence that topped the previous play.
Mussini missed the first of two free throws on the other end, setting Rutgers up for its final possession down two points with 6.5 seconds left on the clock.
After he weaved his way up the floor looking to set the offense up for a quick score, Sanders was in prime position with enough time to get a shot off. The rookie looked for Daniels and found him, splashing a 3-pointer from the top of the key that would have given the Knights the walk-off win.
But Sanders held onto the ball a second too soon and Daniels' would-be game-winner was too late, capping a wild night in Queens.
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