College Hoops Thursday Recap: Red Storm Whip Connecticut

February 11th, 2011
Outperformed, outworked and outclassed. That would sum up what happened to the Connecticut Huskies in the second half at Madison Square Garden, where the St. John's Red Storm built upon the momentum gained from a Malik Boothe buzzer-beater before halftime to win 89-72 in one of their best performances of the season. Just days after scoring 32 points in a losing effort at UCLA, Dwight Hardy once again lived up to his nickname ("Buckets") in scoring a new career-high 33 points and D.J. Kennedy added 20 for the Red Storm, who were at their best on both ends of the floor in those final 20 minutes. St. John's shot an unfathomable 70.8% from the field in the second half, scoring 54 points while UConn shot a relatively paltry 43.8%.

"Twenty-one assists, 10 turnovers, shooting 70 percent in the second half are clear indications that we were hitting on all cylinders," said head coach Steve Lavin. "We were crisp, we were sharp on the offensive end of the floor."

Three margins underline the difference between the two teams on Thursday night: points in the paint, fast-break points and rebounding. St. John's dominated those stats, outscoring UConn 40-12 in the paint and 27-2 in fast-break points, and finishing a plus-10 on the glass. While the Huskies' level of effort wasn't as poor as it was in the blowout suffered at the hands of St. John's in last year's Big East Tournament, their failure to execute on both ends in addition to the Red Storm's excellence made it look as such. Kemba Walker scored 15 points but once again he struggled from the field, making just four of sixteen shots on the night. Jeremy Lamb wasn't much better as he shot 5-for-16 and when he and Shabazz Napier struggle in addition to Walker the Huskies will have a tough time winning games. That most certainly wasn't the case for the Red Storm, who moved to 6-1 at Madison Square Garden this season.

While the Red Storm have lost nine games on the season, including games to St. Bonaventure and Fordham they've not got four wins that few teams in America can match. Having already beaten Notre Dame, Georgetown, Duke and Connecticut this experienced group is in good position to earn that elusive NCAA Tournament berth. MSG used to be an arena that some of the more popular visiting teams such as UConn and Syracuse could control as their fans came to town and gobbled up a decent portion of the tickets. But with St. John's improving the crowds have returned and the buzz is back, meaning that it's going to become all the more difficult for teams to leave with a win.

"There's something about the Garden this year; when we play in front of those fans, we put on a show," said Kennedy. And put on a show St. John's did, picking up another important win and moving that much closer to their goal of dancing. (quotes courtesy of St. John's Athletics)

Other Notable Happenings

1. Bruce Weber uses the "power of the pine" and Illinois beats Minnesota.
Going into Thursday's game with Minnesota having lost five of their last seven games, Illinois was in desperate need of a boost in energy before their season reached official "nosedive" status. Moving Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale to the bench paid off for Illinois, McCamey accounted for 17 points and four assists off the bench and three starters reached double figures as the Illini beat Minnesota 71-62 in Minneapolis. Trevor Mbakwe put forth a very good performance for the Golden Gophers with 17 points and 16 rebounds but it wasn't enough to prevent a fourth straight loss. Neither team shot better than 40% from the field in a contest that ended up with a higher point total than the flow would suggest, but Illinois was a plus-13 in points from the foul line to make up for the shooting and a rebounding deficit of minus-7. Whether or not the lineup changes remain is something to keep an eye on, but Coach Weber's move may have saved Illinois' season.

2. What their close loss gained in respect does Alabama little good in terms of their resume.
JaMychal Green was headed to the basket via baseline drive in the final seconds of the game with a chance to tie things up, but when he was mistakenly ruled out of bounds Alabama lost their best chance to either tie or win the game. Brad Tinsley's three-point play with 16 seconds remaining gave Vanderbilt a 79-77 lead, going on to win 81-77 in Nashville. The verdict for the Crimson Tide is that Anthony Grant's team is among the better clubs in the SEC, but what about their NCAA Tournament chances? With an RPI of 96 and a strength of schedule of 145 ( they're a long way off the radar when it comes to the bubble. But they do have wins over Kentucky and Tennessee with the latter coming on the road, meaning that they'll likely need to run through this next rotation through the SEC West before closing the regular season with games against Florida and Georgia. Green and Trevor Releford have been two of the better players in the conference and they'll need to continue being so if the Tide are to enter the SEC Tournament with a chance to grab a bid. But they will compete, and when a team's able to do that anything is possible.

3. Washington State has lost whatever momentum they gained in beating Washington two weeks ago.
Remember when the Cougars looked to be moving closer to NCAA Tournament "lock" status following their impressive win over Washington in Pullman less than two weeks ago? Following that up with two losses in their last three games isn't the best way to go about building on the momentum gained, and they could be in some trouble following last night's 75-62 loss to Stanford. Jeremy Green scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Cardinal while the Cougars were unable to survive quiet nights from Faisal Aden and Reggie Moore, who combined for just eight points. The loss puts more pressure on their three-game stretch following Saturday's matchup with Cal (who was beaten like they stole something in Seattle last night), which includes games at both Arizona and Washington. Get at least one of those and Ken Bone's team likely punches their ticket provided they take care of business in the games they're expected to win. But if not, Thursday's disappointing performance could be the one they come to rue on Selection Sunday.

McDonald's All-American teams announced
Personal snubs: Jabari Brown (Oakland, CA), Jahii Carson (Mesa, AZ), Dorian Finney-Smith (Portsmouth, VA), Maurice Harkless (Queens, NY), Nick Johnson (Gilbert, AZ) and Josiah Turner (Sacramento, CA), Tony Wroten, Jr (Seattle, WA).

Top Three Games

1. (24) Vanderbilt 81, Alabama 77

2. Cal-State Northridge 70, Cal-State Fullerton 68 Joshua Greene's three pointer with 24 seconds remaining gave the Matadors a 69-68 lead, and a Michael Lizarraga free throw would close out the scoring in Fullerton. Greene was one of three CSN reserves to reach double figures, finishing with 19, and Andre Hardy led Fullerton with 19 points and 12 rebounds.

3. Kennesaw State 69, Florida Gulf Coast 68 Spencer Dixon's three pointer with seven seconds remaining proved to be the difference as the Owls moved to 5-9 in Atlantic Sun play. Dixon finished with 18 and teammate Kelvin McConnell scored a team-high 19 while FGCU was led by Anthony Banks, who finished with 17.

Three Notable Performances

1. G Dwight Hardy (St. John's) 33 points, four rebounds and three assists in the Red Storm's 89-72 win over Connecticut.

2. F Draymond Green (Michigan State) 15 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists in the Spartans' 75-57 win over Penn State.

3. G Joe Zeglinski (Hartford) 33 points, nine rebounds and four steals in the Hawks' 74-65 win over Maine.