St. John’s lets golden opportunity slip by, fall in Big East quarters to Seton Hall

St. John's Seton Hall Big East quarterfinals 2021
Seton Hall Pirates forward Sandro Mamukelashvili (23) and St. John Red Storm forward Arnaldo Toro (12) fight for a rebound during the first half of a Big East tournament game at Madison Square Garden.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It all came crashing down on St. John’s — both literally and figuratively — on Thursday afternoon.

The Red Storm could not overcome their physical disadvantage against Seton Hall, falling in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament 77-69 in overtime.

With the loss, St. John’s (16-11) NCAA Tournament aspirations ended while missing out on a golden opportunity to get to the Big East final shortly after No. 1 seed Villanova was eliminated by No. 8 Georgetown, clearing the three-time defending conference champions out of the Red Storm’s way.

But Seton Hall’s size was too much for St. John’s to handle, winning the rebound battle 49-40 while posting 10 blocks compared to the Red Storm’s one.

Seton Hall’s Jared Rhoden led the way with a monster double-double of 19 points and 16 rebounds while 7-foot-2 center Ike Obiagu posted seven points with seven blocks. Meanwhile, the Pirates’ star and Big East co-Player-of-the-Year, Sandro Mamukelashvili, had 20.

St. John’s was able to overturn a seven-point deficit in the latter portions of the second half to help force overtime, with Julian Champagnie leading the effort with 16 points while Rasheem Dunn added 15.

Seton Hall could not have started much sharper on Thursday afternoon, shooting 10-of-18 from the floor and 3-of-5 from three-point range over the first 11 of the quarterfinal. But St. John’s hung with the Pirates’ early punches trailing only by two with Champagnie accounting for eight of the Red Storms’ first 20 points.

He would put up 12 in the opening 20 minutes.

After Seton Hall snagged a 29-22 lead with 6:25 to go in the first — fueled by Mamukelashvili’s 11 first-half points — St. John’s embarked on a 10-4 run to end the half to trail by just one heading into the locker room.

A miserable shooting start to the second half saw St. John’s lag behind Seton Hall, seven minutes in as it went 2-of-15 from the floor out of the gates while continuing to struggle with Seton Hall’s size — particularly that of Obiagu and Mamukelashvili.

A thunderous dunk by Mamukelashvili put Seton Hall up six with 12 minutes to go in regulation while St. John’s searched for anyone other than Champagnie to provide an offensive boost.

Greg Williams Jr. did just that, accounting for seven points in the Red Storm’s 9-0 run to claw its way back to take a 52-50 lead with 7:59 to go. In the process, it pushed Seton Hall to the penalty, ensuring a clear path to the free-throw line despite having made just four field goals up until that point.

But even with Obiagu on the bench with foul trouble, Seton Hall managed to trade blows with St. John’s down the stretch, holding a four-point lead at the U-4 timeout with 3:38 remaining.

Back came St. John’s with Marcellus Earlington hitting a corner three-pointer to tie the game at 60 with exactly two minutes remaining. They took the lead 54 seconds later when Rasheem Dunn hit a pair of free-throws.

With 53 seconds left, seconds after Obiagu got back on the floor, Myles Cale’s driving lay-up drew things level at 62 to force overtime — though Mamukelashvili missed a pair of chances in the final moments to put Seton Hall over the top.