St. John’s basketball sees at-large hopes crushed against Creighton

St. John's basketball guard Montez Mathis (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball guard Montez Mathis (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

Any hope of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament for the St. John’s basketball team is gone. 

Wednesday night in Queens was supposed to be the continuation of a late season surge from the St. John’s basketball team.

The Johnnies (15-12, 7-9 Big East) had won its last two games in decisive fashion and were hosting Creighton at Carnesecca Arena, a building where the team seems to play its best.

It did not on Wednesday.

Creighton (19-8, 11-5 Big East) jumped out to an early ten point lead, 20-10, but a 27-11 run to close the first half put the Red Storm up by seven, 46-39, with all of the momentum going into halftime.

None of that momentum carried over to the second half.

It was a game in which St. John’s felt comfortably ahead but never was.

The Bluejays used a 6-0 run out of halftime to get itself back in the game before disaster struck.

Creighton star freshman point guard Ryan Nembhard tried to jump a pass to St. John’s point guard Posh Alexander and went down in an immense amount of pain screaming, “It’s broken, it’s broken,” as he held his wrist.

Nembhard was helped by numerous medical professionals on the court before walking off and going to a local hospital for further evaluation.

However, Greg McDermott’s team never stopped fighting en route to its 81-78 victory over St. John’s.

The Johnnies found itself trailing by four, 75-71, with 3:52 to play before Eshaia Nyiwe drilled a 3-pointer and Montez Mathis was fouled on a layup, but missed the free throw, to give the Johnnies a one point lead, 76-75, with 3:16 to play.

St. John’s then went scoreless for the next 2:52 with four missed shots.

“You look at the last five possessions. I don’t think we executed the things we wanted to,” head coach Mike Anderson said.

The biggest miss came with the Red Storm trailing by one, 79-78, with 17.7 seconds left on the clock.

Julian Champagnie got double teamed in the post and kicked to the corner to a wide-open Mathis who passed up a shot attempt and drove into the paint and missed a floater against the 7-foot-1 Ryan Kalkbrenner.

“This one stings a lot,” a dejected Mathis said after the game.

Dylan Addae-Wusu and Aaron Wheeler had a miscommunication with the team trailing by three, 81-78, which resulted in a pass out of bounds and what looked like Creighton victory.

However, Alex O’Connell missed the front end of a one-and-one giving Wheeler a good look to tie the game on a deep 3-pointer that was too strong.

“Players have to step up and make plays, and we didn’t,” Anderson continued.

Ryan Hawkins, Trey Alexander, and Kalkbrenner filled the multiple injury voids for Creighton as the trio combined for 60 points.

O’Connell was playing on an injured ankle and Arthur Kaluma was on a minutes restriction as he returned from a knee injury that sidelined him since February 8.

St. John’s basketball did not ride hot hands

Julian Chamapagnie and Aaron Wheeler did not have good nights as the duo was a combined 4-for-26 from the field for 11 points.

“It’s hard to overcome,” Anderson explained when two of his best players do not play well.

However, its role players stepped up and did their part despite the poor decision on the decisive possession from Mathis as he led the way with 15 points.

Stef Smith added 13 points and 14 points were contributed from O’mar Stanley as the performances of those two were the only positive takeaways from the Johnnies.

“We trust the coaches and what they draw up. We just have to execute better,” Smith said of the constant shortcomings for St. John’s in close games.

Smith was 5-of-6 from the floor in 18 minutes of action while Stanley was 7-of-8 in 12 minutes on the floor yet did not play in the final 8:45 of the game.

Joel Soriano was not available in the game due to a left knee contusion and Rafael Pinzon played in his first game since December 18 with three points in five minutes.

The St. John’s basketball team now travels to Chicago to face the DePaul Blue Demons (12-14, 3-12 Big East) on Sunday evening.