St. John’s basketball rallies for Empire Classic Title in OT against Syracuse

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

Another chapter in the the St. John’s basketball and Syracuse rivalry has been written. 

It wasn’t Madison Square Garden but the Barclays Center delivered on another epic rivalry showdown between the St. John’s basketball program and the Syracuse Orange.

In the Empire Classic Championship Game, the Red Storm and Orange traded blows and 40 minutes was not enough time to determine a winner.

Nothing came easy for either team. The defense stiffened. Each possession felt vital.

A disjointed Syracuse final possession sent the game to overtime as a Symir Torrence fadeaway did not fall over Joel Soriano.

“We could’ve played another half. That’s how much our guys wanted this game,” head coach Mike Anderson said.

Both offenses continued to struggle in the extra session before David Jones finally dropped in a bucket in with 2:48 to play in overtime to give St. John’s the lead.

Jones would hit another shot on the following possession to regain the Red Storm lead and the DePaul transfer drilled the dagger with a corner 3-pointer with 44 seconds to play as the Johnnies (6-0) won its fourth straight game against Syracuse (3-2), 76-69.

“When I used to play for the [Dominican Republic] National Team…I used to hit shots in the big moments,” Jones said after the victory.

“I was missing shots today but my coaches and teammates told me to keep my head up and told me ‘keep shooting’ and shots were going to fall. That’s what I did.”

Jones ended the night with 18 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists on 7-of-25 shooting from the floor and 3-of-15 from 3-point range, but was 3-of-5 in overtime when the lights were the brightest.

However, it was the play of Andre Curbelo that kept St. John’s alive after the Red Storm dug a double-digit first half hole for the third consecutive game.

Curbelo, who posted a late 5-0 run on Monday night to get St. John’s to the championship, ended with a career-high 23 points, three rebounds, and six assists on 9-of-13 shooting from the floor and a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range as he was named as the Most Valuable Player of the Empire Classic.

The Illinois transfer said that his conference was “through the roof” entering Tuesday’s game against the Orange and each time he got the ball in the middle of the Syracuse zone he saw a “green light”.

“It’s still early, we’re still learning, we’re still getting used to each other. We’re gonna get better,” Curbelo said.

St. John’s basketball gets continued boost from its center

Joel Soriano didn’t look like he had the same energy and lift on Tuesday like he had on Monday but the senior center still managed to record his fifth double-double of the season with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

“This is our city,” he exclaimed following the final buzzer as he showcased the Empire Classic trophy to the St. John’s fans remaining in Brooklyn.

“I think they’re a really good team. They’re really physical,” Syracuse Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim said following his team’s second straight overtime game in Brooklyn.

St. John’s, by the outstanding defense of Montez Mathis and Posh Alexander, did not let Syracuse leading scorer Joe Girard get free all night by holding him to just four points on 1-of-10 shooting from the floor.

Girard entered the game averaging 21.3 points per game and scored 31 points in the Orange’s victory over Richmond on Monday.

St. John’s will have the rest of the week off before returning to action against Niagara (2-2) on Saturday afternoon (2:00p.m. EST, FS2) in Queens.