Rapid Reaction: St. John's 89, UConn 72
February, 10, 2011
By Kieran Darcy | ESPNNewYork.com
Recap | Box score
NEW YORK -- A quick take on St. John's 89-72 win over No. 10 UConn on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.
WHAT IT MEANS: St. John's improves to 14-9 overall, and 6-5 in Big East play. This is the Red Storm's fourth win of the season against teams ranked in the top 15 in the country at the time -- making for a very fine résumé come Selection Sunday. It's the most wins St. John's has had against ranked opponents since 1999-2000.
If St. John's can just take care of business against the three teams it should be favored against the rest of the way -- DePaul, Seton Hall and South Florida -- the Johnnies will finish .500 in the Big East, which should be good enough to get them into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. Even an 8-10 conference record might get them in, with all these high-profile wins.
UConn falls to 18-5 overall, and 6-5 in the Big East.
THE SKINNY: The first half of this game was a wild, back-and-forth affair. St. John's jumped out to a 12-6 lead; UConn responded, going ahead 19-17. St. John's jumped out to a 28-19 lead; UConn responded, going ahead 31-29. But the Red Storm scored the final six points of the half -- the final three coming from a Malik Boothe running jumper from just inside half court at the buzzer -- giving St. John's a 35-31 advantage.
To top it off, UConn coach Jim Calhoun -- who thought Boothe traveled on that final shot -- was issued a technical foul on his way to the locker room at halftime. So St. John's began the second half with two free throws and the ball.
In the second half, St. John's converted the two technical free throws, and then rattled off six more points in a row, opening up a 43-31 lead. And believe it or not, the rout was on from there. UConn cut the deficit to nine very briefly, and then St. John's ran the Huskies out of the "gym."
STARRING ROLE: This game was billed as a personal battle between two Bronx guards -- UConn's Kemba Walker and St. John's Dwight Hardy. Walker is the more heralded player -- sixth in the country in scoring coming in, at 23.2 points per game -- but Hardy looked like the national player of the year candidate on Thursday night.
Hardy had a good first half, leading the Red Storm with 12 points, on 5-for-11 shooting. But he absolutely exploded in the second half, when he poured in 17 before the midway point. Hardy finished with a career-high 33 points, on 10-for-17 shooting, 5-for-8 from downtown. His previous career high was 32, in St. John's previous game, against UCLA on Saturday.
Walker, who has slumped of late, looked frustrated by St. John's full-court pressure and matchup 2-3 zone, and finished with 15 points, on 4-for-16 shooting from the field.
SUPPORTING CAST: D.J. Kennedy was the most heralded player on this St. John's roster coming into the season. After averaging 15.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season as a junior, he was named second-team All-Big East in the preseason.
Kennedy has had a disappointing season statistics-wise -- his scoring average (10.1 ppg heading into the UConn game) was his lowest since his freshman year, as Hardy and Justin Brownlee have become the focal points of Steve Lavin's offense. But Kennedy stepped up in a big way Thursday night, with 20 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. You could tell he had tremendous energy from the opening tip, and his passion propelled the Red Storm from the get-go.
WHAT'S NEXT: St. John's will play at Cincinnati on Sunday at noon. UConn will host Providence on Sunday.