NEW YORK – The St. John’s Red Storm got beaten by the Pitt Panthers for the second time in a week, this time in the first round of the Big East Championship, 73-59, to end their season.
Much like their game last Wednesday, which Pitt won at home 89-69, it was a tight first half, with the Red Storm leading 26-20 in the early going.
In the final five minutes of the first half, Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs scored seven points to rally Pitt to a 13-2 run to take a 33-28 lead at halftime.
St. John’s guard Moe Harkless said of Pitt’s run to close out the first half, “I think we like to play a fast-paced game, but I think when the pace switched, we were rushing a little bit. A lot of shots that we took during that time were bad shots and I think if we would have slowed down and took our time, In think we would have been able to overcome that hump.”
Pitt’s dominance continued in the second half, opening up a 48-36 lead seven minutes in on a three-pointer in the corner by John Johnson.
Pitt maintained around a ten-point lead the rest of the way. The closest St. John’s got to was 11 points, at 56-45 Pitt, on an Amir Garrett three-pointer with 8:21 remaining. Gibbs missed a three for Pitt, so St. John’s had a chance to pull to within eight, but Garrett missed a wide-open attempt.
Pitt also got St. John’s into major foul trouble, with all five St. John’s players on the floor having four fouls each. Eventually, Sir’Dominic Pointer and Amir Garrett both fouled out.
Pitt made 11 free throws in the final seven minutes of the game.
St. John’s got a great game from Moe Harkless, who was named the Big East Conference Rookie Player of the Year. Harkless had 25 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
The other main scorer on St. John’s, D’Angelo Harrison, was held to 12 points on 4-for-18 shooting and 0-for-6 from three-point range.
St. John’s shot just 33.3 percent from the field, or 22-for-66, and made two 3-pointers out of 11 attempts.
St. John’s forward God’sgift Achiuwa had a tough game, shooting just 1-for-10, with most of his nine misses coming on layups.
Achiuwa was not the only one to miss layups, as noted by Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap, who filled in for the recuperating Steve Lavin, “The difference between the first time we played Pitt and the second was that we were able to rebound with them a little better, but we weren’t able to finish at the rim. We had a lot of easy baskets that didn’t go in.
Dunlap said of the second half, “And I think when we came out in the second half, that impacted our ability to play probably a little bit more intense. We let that bleed into our defense. But the story was we had plenty of good looks, we just couldn’t finish.”
The fact that St. John’s had to play with just six scholarship players down the stretch may have finally sapped their energy. Harkless said of this, “You know, it’s pretty tough, but I think our guys on our team, everybody is tough on our team. Nobody gave up on each other.”
Pitt was led by Ashton Gibbs with 20 points on 5-for-14 shooting and hit four 3-pointers and six free throws. Pitt forward Nasir Robinson had a strong game, scoring 15 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Pitt Head Coach Jamie Dixon said of the win, “We defended well and did enough rebounding wise, and I thought we were patient offensively, took pretty good shots, shot a good percentage against a good defensive team. Obviously St. John’s with a match-up zone bothers a lot of teams. We played pretty well in both games against them and took good shots for the most part and today we cut down on the turnovers and gave us another good opportunity.”
Pitt will take on Georgetown in the second round of the Big East Championship on Wednesday afternoon.