St. John’s basketball saved by OT buzzer beater in Rutgers exhibition

St. John's basketball center Joel Soriano (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball center Joel Soriano (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

The St. John’s basketball team played an epic exhibition against Rutgers. 

Saturday afternoon’s exhibition matchup between the St. John’s basketball program and Rutgers Scarlet Knights felt like a late February conference matchup with the hopes of receiving an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.

Instead, it served as a measuring stick for both head coaches but a very entertaining three hours for the 3,011 people that sat in Carnesecca Arena.

The first half could not have been much better for Rick Pitino and the Johnnies, building an 18-point lead, 41-23, going into the locker room and receiving and standing ovation from the Red Storm faithful.

“It felt like a Big East Tournament game how all the fans were into it,” Nahiem Alleyne, a UConn transfer, said following the game.

St. John’s defense overwhelmed Rutgers, forcing the Scarlet Knight to commit 10 turnovers and miss all 11 of its attempts from 3-point range.

Daniss Jenkins, one of the three Iona transfers on Pitino’s roster, was in complete control of the action with 10 points as nine players scored in the opening half.

Then the script flipped. Everything that went right for St. John’s in the first half went wrong in the second half.

The 20-point lead it built early in the second half vanished within minutes as Rutgers took its first lead, 61-60, since the game was 2-0 on a Noah Fernandes layup with 3:34 remaining.

ALSO READ: Nahiem Alleyne calls Danny Hurley a ‘Younger Pitino’

“Winning by 20 or 25 would have killed my team,” Pitino said.

Well, he got his wish.

The lead changed hands over the final three minutes and neither could take control because of sloppy play as the second half buzzer sounded with the scored tied at 67 and five more minutes were put on the clock.

Rutgers led by three, 75-72, with 24.3 seconds left in overtime and St. John’s turned to Alleyne, the reigning National Champion, to try and deliver the heroics.

After an initial 3-pointer byChris Ledlum was missed, the Red Storm corralled the offensive rebound and the graduate student’s 3-pointer was halfway in the basket before it popped out. However, Ledlum was there for another rebound to give Alleyne one last try as the ball swished through the basket as the horn sounded.

Double overtime.

“I thought that first one was going to go in, kind of went in and out,” Alleyne said.

“[The second shot] felt good off of my hands. That was a very exciting exhibition game. Hopefully, we don’t have too many double overtimes so we can be better, but it was exciting.”

The second overtime was a near carbon copy of the first half as St. John’s dominated from the tipoff and outscored Rutgers 14-3, winning 89-78.

Glenn Taylor Jr. scored seven of his 13 points in double overtime.

“Going into double overtime in an exhibition game is a dream come true,” Pitino said. “I told my team I’d rather have lost than win by 20 because of all the lessons learned in a close game.”

St. John’s basketball has two issues to fix

Two of the biggest problems for the St. John’s basketball team on Saturday was its inability to defend without fouling and missing free throws.

The Red Storm committed a total of 28 fouls as three different players ending the game with four personal fouls and freshman Simeon Wilcher fouled out of the the game.

Rick Pitino, though, was happy to see how many fouls were called on his team.

ALSO READ: St. John’s loses another player to broken hand

“The number one weakness in the game was fouling. I tell our guys every day, ‘you put your hands on them, they’re going to call that,'” Pitino said.

“For us to get called for that many fouls was awesome, because I’m telling them every day.”

St. John’s was 19-of-29 from the free throw line and missed clutch attempts in the second half which could have ended the the game much earlier.

The Red Storm will have one more exhibition left in the preseason — although it should not be as nearly compelling — when the Johnnies host Pace on Sunday, October 29 (3:30p.m. ET).

Next. St. John’s eyeing massive, historic games for next season. dark