St. John's basketball lets chance at victory over No. 5 UConn slip away in late stages

The St. John's basketball team squandered a chance at victory on the road against No. 5 UConn.
Dec 23, 2023; Hartford, Connecticut, USA; St. John's Red Storm center Joel Soriano (11) reacts after
Dec 23, 2023; Hartford, Connecticut, USA; St. John's Red Storm center Joel Soriano (11) reacts after / David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Pitino taking his St. John's basketball team on the road to face the defending National Champion UConn Huskies in primetime lived up to the hype and then some.

The Red Storm took a 63-61 lead with 4:15 remaining on a 3-pointer from Glenn Taylor Jr. It was the first time the Johnnies led since it was 39-38 early in the second half, but the offense went cold at the wrong time and the backboards didn't help, either.

St. John's was 1-for-5 from the floor and 0-for-2 from the free throw line with a turnover in the final 3:19 as No. 5 UConn, who played without star center Donovan Clingan, closed out the 69-65 victory.

Two offensive rebounds for UConn (11-2, 1-1 Big East) after the Johnnies went in front allowed Stephon Castle to tie the game, which started a 6-0 run for the Huskies.

"We lost the game because we didn't block out," Pitino said.

Joel Soriano, who scored the only bucket during that timespan, brought the Red Storm (8-4, 1-1 Big East) back within two, 67-65, and St. John's was able to finally stop Connecticut -- albeit after allowing two offensive rebounds -- with a chance to tie the game with 17.7 seconds left at the free throw line.

Chris Ledlum missed both and after Tristen Newton only made 1-of-2 at the line St. John's had another chance to tie the game but Daniss Jenkins rushed a 3-pointer with 5.1 remaining.

"It's a missed opportunity but the best game we played this year," Pitino added.

"We did a lot of great things. We are coming as a basketball team. We are coming."

St. John's was 12-for-17 from the charity stripe in the second half, which saw a combined 39 free throws between the two teams.

"They played their hearts out. They gave everything they can and they lost on the road to a decent team," the Hall of Famer said.

"We had this game. We should've won it."

Jenkins was 4-of-13 from the field and 1-of-6 from 3-point range -- yet St. John's was only 4-of-18 as a team from beyond the arc -- and Soriano, who battled foul trouble in the second half, was limited to just five shot attempts.

RJ Luis (shin splints) returned for the first time since November 25 and was impressive in 18 minutes with six points, three rebounds, and two steals.

St. John's will have a week in between games when it concludes non-conference play against Hofstra on Saturday, December 30 (12:00 p.m. ET, FoxSports1) at UBS Arena.