Following their upset of #14 Cincinnati, the St. John’s Red Storm (9-6, 1-2) returned home to host the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (11-3, 2-1) at Madison Square Garden.
Coming into the night, St. John’s had won 9 of their last 13 meetings with Rutgers, despite losing last seasons matchup 61-58. The Knights had not won a game at MSG since 1997.
Much like their start against Cincy, St. John’s struggled to find the bottom of the basket early on. The Rutgers defense stifled the Storm as the first half got started, holding them to 1-10 shooting while forcing 3 turnovers in the games first 7 minutes. Rutgers took advantage of the anemic St. John’s offense, taking a 13-2 lead.
Jamal Branch, who missed his last game due to an eye injury, finally got St. John’s back on the scoring sheet, hitting one of his two free throws. D’Angelo Harrison then made a debut of his own, hitting a three and trimming the Scarlet Knights lead to 13-6.
Harrison hit another shot from behind the arc, and with 11 to go St. John’s was down 15-1o. They continued to finally get in a groove, and after a 12-2 run, the Storm took their first lead of the game, 18-17.
Part of the comeback was due St. John’s being able to neutralize Rutgers big man Wally Judge , holding him to 1-5 shooting while allowing him just one offensive rebound. He also had one of seven Rutgers turnovers, his being a big one that came with 6 to go, and it allowed the Storm to extent their lead to 20-17.
Both teams traded a few buckets as the half wound down, and with a minute to go they were tied at 23 points a piece. Harrison and Sir’Dom Pointer would each add two more points, and after the games first 20 minutes, St. John’s led Rutgers 27-23.
After two turnovers to start the half, Rutgers retook the lead at 28-27. The Storm were able to hold them scoreless for the next 3 minutes, and despite another slow start to a half, they led 29-28.
Neither team was able to pull away as the half went on. It wasn’t until their were 13 minutes left in the half that a team had a lead higher than two points, with Rutgers leading 36-33.
Chirs Obekpa continued to struggle from the free throw line, going 0-4 from the charity stripe and putting his season numbers to 5-21. Following two of those misses, Wally Judge slammed home a dunk extending the Scarlet Knights lead to 38-33 with 12 to go.
Obekpa was able to make up for it a few minutes later, grabbing an offensive rebound and then tipping in a missed Phil Greene shot. Following the Obekpa tip, St. John’s trailed 44-43 with 8 minutes left in the game.
JaKarr Sampson then gave the Storm a lead but Rutgers took it right back. Sampson did it again, but as things had gone all game, the Scarlet Knights drained a three to give themselves the advantage once again, 49-47.
With 5 minutes left Rutgers had a chance to extend their lead, but an Obekpa block kept the Knights at bay. The Storm came back the other way to knot things up at 49 apiece after two D’Angelo Harrison free throws.
Harrison continued getting to the line, scoring three more points for St. John’s from the stripe. But after missing his fourth opportunity, Rutgers took the ball down the court to take, and then extend the lead to 55-52 with 2 minutes left.
As he had done all second half, Harrison got himself to the free throw line with 30 seconds to go and a chance to tie. He hit only one of two and the Storm continued to trail the Knights. St. John’s would not be able get back in it after the miss, and they would fall 58-56.
St. John’s will look to get back at .500 in the Big East as they host the Georgetown Hoyas January 12 at MSG.