St. John’s basketball: Ejection, inconsistency fuels Seton Hall comeback

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

The St. John’s basketball team squandered another sizable lead against Seton Hall. 

Blown leads have become normal for the St. John’s basketball program against Seton Hall this season.

The Red Storm led by 10 points, 23-13, against the Pirates in Newark on December 31 before seeing Seton Hall outscore them by 32 points over the final 29:43 of the game.

Wednesday night inside Carnesecca Arena was not much better for the Johnnies.

St. John’s built a 13-point lead, 33-20, with 4:19 left in the first half but it quickly evaporated.

Seton Hall closed the opening stanza on a 12-2 run and after St. John’s scored the opening three points of the second half from the free throw line the Pirates added 10 straight points to take its first lead, 42-38, since early in the first half.

A layup from Andre Curbelo got St. John’s the lead back, 46-44, but prior to the play he was jawing with Seton Hall’s KC Ndefo.

Referees came between the two players before the inbounds pass but Curbelo and Ndefo shoved each other following the layup by the Red Storm guard and were both assessed technicals.

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Curbelo, unhappy with the decision, slammed his protective glasses and was assessed another technical and ejected for the second time this season.

“I thought it really changed the trajectory of the game,” St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson said of his starting guard’s ejection.

St. John’s (14-9, 4-8 Big East) would go on a 7-0 run after Al-Amir Dawes hit both technical free throws to tie the game with 13:35 left, but Seton Hall (14-9, 7-5 Big East) head coach Shaheen Holloway had a curveball for the Johnnies and switched to a zone defense.

The adjustment caused fits for the Red Storm and could not consistently find good looks at the basket.

“We didn’t make good decisions,” Anderson continued about his teams execution against the Pirates zone.

Seton Hall would outscore St. John’s 36-17 over the final 10:45 of regulation in its 84-72 victory.

“We didn’t answer the call,” Anderson said. “That falls on me as the head coach. It starts with me.”

St. John’s basketball running out of options and answers

St. John’s connected on just 17-of-27 (63.0-percent) attempts from the free throw line and its 17 turnovers resulted into 28 points for the Pirates.

Seton Hall’s two largest scoring outputs of the season (88 and 84 points, respectively) have both come against the Red Storm and the only two times the Pirates have scored at least 80 points in conference play have been against the Johnnies.

Posh Alexander, in his return to the lineup after missing two games, scored 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting but All-Big East caliber center Joel Soriano continued his struggles with just nine points and 10 rebounds on 2-of-8 shooting.

St. John’s now drops to 2-8 in Quadrant 1 and 2 games and has very little chance of reaching the NCAA Tournament without a magical championship run next month during the Big East Tournament.

Mike Anderson cited Alexander’s ankle injury, Rafael Pinzon‘s constant injuries as he was again sidelined by an ankle sprain, and a recent illness for David Jones as reasons why the Red Storm have not performed to his preseason expectations.

“We haven’t really come together and played at the level you have to play consistently in Big East play,” Anderson explained.

“We just haven’t played the type of basketball I want us to play, to put it pretty bluntly.”

The Johnnies are even looking at an uphill climb to the NIT the way things stand with its resume.

Things do not get easier for St. John’s with a trip to the Cintas Center to face No. 16 Xavier (18-5, 10-2 Big East) on Saturday afternoon (5:00p.m. EST, FOX), which picked up an overtime victory over No. 17 Providence on Wednesday night despite the absence of junior forward Zach Freemantle.