The St. John’s basketball team used its defense to escape North Texas.
The difference a couple of days can make for the St. John’s basketball team was much needed.
After watching Michigan hang 89 points in Madison Square Garden on Monday night, the Johnnies held North Texas to just 52 points in the opening game of the Charleston Classic, but it almost wasn’t enough to win.
The Red Storm needed a defensive stand with 10.9 seconds left in regulation to advance to the winner’s side of the bracket after Daniss Jenkins coughed up his fifth turnover of the game with a chance to push the St. John’s lead to three points.
Chris Ledlum, who struggled again offensively, provided the contest on Aaron Scott’s potential game winning jumper.
Joel Soriano, who grabbed the defensive rebound after Scott’s shot, would miss two free throws with 2.1 seconds left but the Mean Green would not get a shot off before the buzzer as St. John’s escaped, 53-52.
“Our guys were brilliant defensively,” Rick Pitino said after the game, who knew Thursday’s matchup would be a tight, low-scoring affair.
North Texas shot 32.7-percent from the field and 31.6-percent from 3-point range.
“We had to come together and learn a lot from the Michigan game,” Pitino added.
“If we are going to reach out potential, it’s going to be on defense and the guys did it tonight.”
St. John’s basketball still rides veteran center to finish line
St. John’s led 49-38 with 6:05 to play and its only field goal over a 4-minute stretch was a 3-pointer at the top of the key from Joel Soriano, who remains perfect on the season shooting from downtown.
The lead quickly vanished as North Texas took its first lead of the game with 2:00 remaining, 52-51, but it was Soriano, again, who was there to bail out the Johnnies with a pair of free throws with 1:11 left to give the Red Storm lead it would not relinquish.
“I closed my eyes on the shot,” Pitino said of Soriano’s 3-pointer that gave St. John’s a 45-38 lead at the moment.
“We needed a bucket at the time, so I was like, ‘I’m just going to pop out and shoot it,’ so I just shot it with confidence,” Soriano said.
St. John’s will play either Dayton or LSU on Friday afternoon (2:00p.m. ET, ESPN2).