2000-03-01 / Sports

Red Storm Red Hot With

Triumphs Over Duke And UConn

by richard kagan

If you thought St. John’s recent win over No. 21-ranked University of Connecticut was exciting, then what would you call the Johnnies’ upset over No. 2-ranked Duke University last Saturday in Durham, NC? How about the biggest win of the season.

The Red Storm (20–6, 11–3) remembered the epic game of last season when Duke outlasted St. John’s 92–88 in overtime at Madison Square Garden. The Storm went into Cameron Indoor Stadium a confident team, riding a six-game winning streak. They left with a stunning 83–82 last-minute victory and completed a trifecta of beating Syracuse, Connecticut and now the Blue Devils, all nationally ranked teams, within a span of eight days. Talk about being red hot.

Photo Courtesy SJU Media Guide

Bootsy Thronton turned in great performancefor the Storm during key wins over UConn and Duke.

Bootsy Thornton hit a huge clutch basket with just 13 seconds remaining to give St. John’s an 83–82 lead. Duke (22–4) missed on their final shot to stave off the upset and St. John’s had one of the season’s biggest surprises. The Johnnies are just the third non-conference team to win at Cameron since 1983. Duke is virtually unbeatable at home. But the Johnnies threw caution to the wind and played with crackling intensity. Thornton, a senior, playing great as his college career winds down, had a stellar game. He scored 22 points, had 11 rebounds and six assists. All five St. John’s starters scored in double figures.

Against Connecticut, the Johnnies (19–6, 11–3) had another score to settle. St. John’s was routed in last year’s Big East Title game by the Huskies. The Storm didn’t forget. And when UConn came to the Garden on President’s Day, it faced a raucous, sold-out crowd of St. John’s fans. The Johnnies fans came a way happy as St. John’s soundly defeated Connecticut 79–64. this is a different season and the defending national champions aren’t the same team as last year. The Huskies lost one of their stars, Richard Hamilton, to the National Basketball Association. Ricky Moore, one of the nation’s best college defenders last season was gone as well.

UConn Entered the game needing a win. The perennial top 10 team has been drifting down in the Big East standings. The Huskies still have a lot of fire-power and in the first half, the game was nip and tuck, despite a fast 8–0 start by St. John’s. Forward Kevin Freeman had an impressive night and kept UConn in the hunt in the early going. But, St. John’s took a 39–33 half-time lead and built on it in the second half. St. John’s was clicking on offense and creating well-executed plays in transition. The Johnnies forced the Huskies into making 16 turnovers and the Storm converted them into easy buckets. All in all, head coach Mike Jarvis was very pleased with his team’s performance. "The kids were magnificent from the first play to the last play," Jarvis said.

The capacity Garden crowd saw sophomore Erick Barkley score 22 points on his 22nd birthday. Senior forward Lavor Postell came up big, hitting three treys en route to a 22-point effort. Senior guard Bootsy Thornton, who has a habit of making a statement in big games, scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds. St. John’s guards out-shot UConn’s by a startling 42–2 margin. Khalid El-Amin and Albert Mouring went a combined 0 for 16 from the field for Connecticut. Jim Calhoun, head coach for the Huskies, said his backcourt’s poor shooting performance was a big factor in the game. "Obviously, our backcourt is not playing the way it is capable," Calhoun said. The Huskies shot just 40 percent from the floor for the game.

UConn forward Kevin Freeman did have a terrific night, scoring 22 points, including 4–4 from three-point land. But Freeman alone couldn’t win it for the Huskies, who are searching for the winning touch in late February. As the game wore on and it became apparent that the Red Storm would win, the partisan crowd serenaded UConn with chants of "N-I-T", referring to the other post-season bash.

In the second half, leading 47–40, the Red Storm made its move, reeling off nine straight points to make it 56–40, with 12:53 remaining. During the run, the Huskies’ Jake Voskuhl drew a technical foul for arguing a call and St. John’s took advantage by scoring four points when Barkley hit both free throws and Thornton converted on a layup. Forward Reggie Jessie figured in two spectacular plays for the Red Storm. While the Johnnies were building up their lead, Jessie made a great behind-the-back pass to a trailing Barkley who went in for the layup. The Garden erupted and UConn was forced to call a time-out. Jessie also fired a beautifully timed alley-oop pass to a soaring Postell who dunked the ball in the hoop to put SJU up 18 points at 60–42. The St. John’s fans went wild and Connecticut was forced to use another time-out.

In contrast to recent games, where the Red Storm pulled out wins in nail-biting fashion the Johnnies closed this one out without a serious threat from the out-of-sync Huskies.

St. John’s plays well when the offense penetrates to the basket with good passing and unselfish play. When the Red Storm uses its speed and quick hands to force turnovers, St. John’s is on the mark. Jarvis knows that when his team is utilizing its strengths, St. John’s can be a formidable foe. "I think they’re really starting to understand what they do best, and (are) really starting to feed off those things," Jarvis said of his players.

Postell, who continually comes up big in important games thought that the win over Connecticut was a special one. "It showed everybody what kind of team we are," he said.

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