St. John’s edges West Virginia in Big East-Big 12 battle at MSG
LJ Figueroa scored 17 points to lead St. John’s to a 70-68 win over West Virginia in the MSG Holiday Festival.
St. John’s came into Saturday’s matchup against unbeaten West Virginia understanding the importance of the game. After a tougher than expected game against Saint Peter’s on Tuesday, the Red Storm defeating the Mountaineers could add to their NCAA Tournament resume heading as non-conference play winds down.
In an up-down game, St. John’s were able to get clutch stops defensively to defeat West Virginia 70-68 on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
The first half saw an even game from both squads to start the game. Senior guard Mustapha Heron struggled in the first half, shooting just 1-of-6 in the first half. Picking up the slack was LJ Figueroa, who scored 17 points in a first-half performance that St. John’s badly needed. While Figueroa flourished, the rest of the team shot just 7-for-32 from the field.
While St. John’s shot just 33 percent from the field, the team’s defense was a major reason for the Red Storm staying in the game. West Virginia turned the ball over 13 times that turned into 12 St. John’s points. However, West Virginia was hitting their baskets when they had the ball, including 22 points in the paint, as the teams were tied at 36 at the half.
The second half saw the back-and-forth play continue as both teams exchanged baskets throughout the early part of the half. LJ Figueroa picked up his third foul with 15:25 remaining as St. John’s held on to a 44-43 lead.
Rasheem Dunn’s three-point play stretched the Red Storm lead to four points. On the following possession, Figueroa picked up his fourth foul at the 14:07 mark. St. John’s rallied as Greg Williams Jr. hit a three-pointer to extend the St. John’s (8-2) lead to nine points. Williams Jr.’s trey was part of an 8-0 run and an almost four-minute scoring drought for West Virginia. After that, the Mountaineers made 4-of-5 field goals to cut the lead to 58-53 with 9:15 remaining in regulation.
The tail end of the second half was a struggle for St. John’s as they went 4:15 without a field goal. Heron and Nick Rutherford hit six free throws during that span, but shots were not dropping for the Red Storm. A Josh Roberts put back at ended the streak and put St. John’s up 68-59.
“This game came down to toughness. This game came down to grit,” said St. John’s coach Mike Anderson. It came down to determination, and I think these are starting to put it on display.”
A 9-0 West Virginia (7-1) run was capped off by a Sean McNeil three that tied the game at 68 with 1:13 remaining. St. John’s went cold once again, going over four minutes without a point. After a timeout, Dunn drew a foul driving to the basket. Dunn hit both free throws to put St. John’s up 70-68 with five seconds to go. A last-second shot for Miles McBride hit off the rim as the Red Storm held on in front of a raucous crowd at The Garden.
“It’s the reason I came here,” said Dunn. “I feel like I could play on the big stage. I thank Mike Anderson for granting me that scholarship and taking me in as family.”
“What a great way to start our games at Madison Square Garden. The crowd was really involved.”
LJ Figueroa scored a game-high 17 points while Rasheem Dunn added 13 off the bench. St. John’s forced 22 West Virginia turnovers and converted 22 points off turnovers.
West Virginia was led by Sean McNeil, who finished with 13 points. Derek Culver picked up a double-double with 12 points and 18 rebounds.
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