St. John’s March Madness push ends in Big East loss to Seton Hall

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St. John’s had all the momentum. Its Big East Freshman of the Year, Posh Alexander, was back. It was coming off a thorough victory over Seton Hall and was playing in front of family and friends for the first time this year.

It didn’t matter.

The Pirates had experience — and the best player on floor — on their side. They still are in control of this local rivalry and they still are in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth as a result.

Seton Hall, in search of a fifth-straight trip to the tournament, controlled the extra session and moved on to the Big East semifinals with a gritty 77-69 overtime victory at the Garden, ending St. John’s long-shot hopes of going dancing.

The Pirates looked nothing like the team that ended the regular season losing four straight games. They played with poise, precision and intensity at both ends of the floor. Everything was difficult for St. John’s, which shot just 32 percent from the field.

While senior star Sandro Mamukelashvili had 20 points and 11 rebounds, and junior Jared Rhoden added 19 points and 16 rebounds, St. John’s young stars struggled. Julian Champagnie shot just 7 of 21 from the field and Alexander’s impact was minimal in a six-point performance. In what could be his final game, senior Rasheem Dunn had 15 points and three assists.

Mamukelashvili had two chances to win in regulation, but he came up empty on the final possession to force overtime. St. John’s had pulled even on a Marcellus Earlington 3-pointer with 1:58 left and went ahead on two Dunn free throws with 1:06 to go. Myles Cale scored on the other end to knot it up at 60.

St. John’s reeled off seven straight points to pull even at 50 on a spinning Greg Williams Jr. bank shot in transition, forcing a Seton Hall timeout with 8:14 left. Williams gave St. John’s the lead on its next possession with a pair of free throws, but Seton Hall reeled off five straight points, on a Rhoden offensive rebound and basket and Cale 3-pointer, to go back ahead.

Seton Hall St. John's Big East Tournament March Madness 2021
Julian Champagnie (l.) tries to stop Sandro Mamukelashvili during the second half of St. John’s loss to Seton Hall on March 11, 2021.
AP

Seton Hall forced the ball inside early in the second half and St. John’s couldn’t avoid fouling. It was whistled for six personal fouls by the first media timeout. After consecutive Mamukelashvili baskets, the Pirates had their biggest lead of the half, at 46-40, with 12:16 remaining.

St. John’s didn’t start well, although not nearly as poorly as Saturday, when it fell behind Seton Hall 18-0. It was 8-2 Pirates out of the gate and 10-4 early on. Seton Hall methodically built a nine-point edge, beating the Red Storm downcourt for easy baskets in transition.

The Johnnies’ pressure defense began to take effect late in the first half, keying a 10-0 run. At the half, the Pirates led by a point, 33-32, behind Mamukelashvili’s 11 points and seven rebounds. Champagnie scored 12 in the opening stanza for St. John’s, but made just 5 of 12 field-goal attempts, uncharacteristically misfiring on a few open looks that could’ve enabled the Johnnies to take the lead into intermission.

Alexander didn’t start, but he came in after the first media timeout and seemed like himself in the opening 20 minutes, scoring four points and notching two steals.

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