Second-half scoring drought sinks St. John’s in narrow loss to UConn

St. John's Red Storm UConn Huskies
St. John’s Red Storm guard Montez Mathis (23) shoots over Connecticut Huskies guard Jordan Hawkins (24) in the second half at Madison Square Garden.
Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

It was the block that saved the day for the UConn Huskies and ultimately squashed the St. John’s Red Storm’s hopes of winning its third straight game on Sunday. In the end, St John’s fell to the No. 15 team in the country, 63-60. 

Adama Sanogo’s block with 52 seconds left in the game prevented the Red Storm from tying the game at 59. Dylan Addae-Wusu went for a driving layup, but Sanogo was able to stay with Addae-Wusu to knock the shot away and Andre Jackson grabbed the defensive rebound. 

Tyrese Martin made the layup on the other end to make it a 61-57 game. In keeping with the events of Sunday afternoon, St. John’s hung with UConn to take things down to the wire. Wheeler knocked down a stepback three to cut the Huskies’ lead to one, but RJ Cole knocked down a pair of free throws and Wheeler’s three attempt at the buzzer didn’t fall. 

“I thought UConn had a little grit there at the end and they were able to get some rebounds, and of course, they made some free throws,” St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson said. “We had opportunities to make plays, but it was one of those deals where we just came up short again. It wasn’t because of the lack of effort. Sometimes it’s lack of execution. 

“I told our guys this one falls on me. We didn’t have maybe the right people out there at the right time. … Obviously today they just had a little more grit going down the stretch than we did.” 

The loss snapped a tw0 game winning streak for St. John’s and was their second loss of the year to the Huskies. It also marked the fifth time this season that the Red Storm have fallen to an AP Top 25 team. 

The Red Strom dropped its record against Quad 1 opponents to an ugly 1-9 and six of those losses have been in the single digits.

“I feel like we go out there every night and we give our all,” Julian Champagnie said. “For games to be made up by one or two possessions or a free throw, it’s frustrating, but at the same time, we have a game on Wednesday.”

Sunday also marked UConn’s first win at Madison Square Garden against St. John’s since Jan. 15, 2009. 

St. John’s alumni and current Sacramento Kings forward Maurice Harkless was in attendance for Sunday’s Big East showdown. The Kings are in town to play the Brooklyn Nets on Monday at Barclays Center. 

Montez Mathis finished the game with 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting from the field. Of Mathis’ 14 points, 12 had come in the second half for St. John’s.

Champagnie had 13 points in the loss, along with 11 rebounds and 2 assists and Aaron Wheeler also finished with 13 points of his own. Dylan Addae-Wusu had 12 points helping to fill the hole left by Post Alexander, who is nursing a sprained ankle. 

While the block in the final minute was the dagger, a nearly six-minute span where the Red Storm could not score erased their seven-point lead — the largest of the game —  in the second half and allowed the Huskies to go on an 11-0 run and retake the lead. 

St. John’s missed eight straight shots in that span before Mathis was able to finally end the drought with a driving layup with 2:07 left on the clock.

“Shots wouldn’t fall. Sometimes we couldn’t get shots up quick enough,” Champagnie said of the shooting slump the Red Storm had in the second half. “Just for a couple of minutes, we struggled to put the ball in the basket and get to the spot you wanted to. That’s what I saw for a good couple of possessions.” 

St. John’s and UConn spent the first half trading baskets. The two sides traded the lead a collective five times through the first 6:15 of the first half and ended the opening 20 minutes with a total of eight lead changes. It was an emphatic dunk from Mathis that sent the Madison Square Garden crowd into a frenzy and tied the game at 11 at the 13:10 mark. 

The Huskies broke the tie off a three from R.J. Cole, but Addae-Wusu and Wheeler scored back-to-back buckets to put the Red Storm in the lead. Cole hit another three to put UConn up 17-16 and then they went on an 11-7 run to open up a 28-23 lead, which was the largest of the half. 

The Red Storm closed the gap with a 6-2 run of their own to end the half down 30-29. 

It may have been the block that saved the game with 5:01 left in the game. Adama Sanogo went for a layup with UConn down by one but was met by a crucial block by Joel Soriano to keep St. John’s ahead 55-54