Orange too balanced for struggling Storm

Rick Jackson was one of four SU starters in double figures.

Syracuse 76, St. John’s 59

Steve Lavin could not pinpoint the exact moment when things began slipping away from his team. The first-year St. John’s coach estimated it was approximately midway through the first half after the Red Storm got off to a decent start.

What Lavin did know was that when his team could not counter anything Syracuse did, it was going to be a difficult night against a top-five opponent, whose fans have made themselves quite comfortable at Madison Square Garden in recent years.

As the Orange gradually pulled away after a dreadful start, the necessary resiliency never appeared and St. John’s was handed a 76-59 loss before a crowd of 14,440 fans.

The moment Lavin referred to was after St. John’s (10-5, 5-2) opened an eight-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining in the opening half. After that, it was all Orange (17-0, 4-0) as the combination of swarming zone defense, high percentage looks and good shooting allowed the nation’s fourth-ranked team to begin dominating.

 “I thought early we did some good things both with our pressure in the full court and we got some good looks at the basket,” Lavin said. “But Syracuse clearly dominated the game at both ends of their floor with their zone defense and also on the glass and the high percentage looks they were able to get in the interior. They just played a sustained and excellent game.”

The excellence Lavin referenced occurred on both ends of the floor.

After Syracuse opened 3 of 13, the Orange made their next seven shots. Syracuse finished a night of 57 percent shooting by making 28 of their 41 shots and placing four in double figures.

Kris Joseph led Syracuse with 18 points while Rick Jackson added 12, including a buzzer-beating layup that closed the first half. Brandon Triche contributed 15 and Scoop Jardine chipped in 14 much as Syracuse beat St. John’s for the 11th time in 12 games.

“They’re the number four team in the country,” D.J. Kennedy said. “You can’t get down too many points. Once they get the lead, they’re pretty good at holding on to it. So it’s kind of tough fighting back, especially when you get down double digits.”

On defense, the zone stymied St. John’s top players. Other than two times where defenders got away from Dwight Hardy, they held St. John’s leading scorer to 12 points on 4 of 15 from the field. The Johnnies shouldn’t feel too badly, though, Syracuse leads the Big East is defense.

“I sensed from the sidelines there were stretches where they just really put the hammer down on us and we didn’t counter punch and come back to the degree of resiliency you need,” Lavin said. “So our counter punching wasn’t up to par. Our players for the most have done a really impressive job of counter punching but tonight we didn’t have the answer to their big runs.”

It was the second time in five days St. John’s did not show a resilient side. Saturday in South Bend, the Red Storm never recovered from an early 11-point deficit and lost by 15 to Notre Dame.

Notre Dame visits Sunday. By then Lavin will have reviewed all that went wrong first with his coaches, then with his players and will hope for some improvement after two disappointing showings against ranked teams.

What we saw …

1 Not there yet — There’s no question St. John’s is improving, but it’s equally clear the Johnnies aren’t in the upper echelon of the Big East. The Red Storm have been thoroughly outplayed in the last week, losing by 15 at Notre Dame and 17 last night at the Garden against Syracuse, which remained unbeaten by shooting 56 percent. The St. John’s seniors, who vowed this meeting was “personal” will now finish their career winless against Syracuse unless the two clash in the Big East tournament.

2 Leading men lacking — Dwight Hardy averaged nearly 20 points and better than 50 percent shooting in his previous eight games but had a rough night against the Syracuse zone (12 points, 4 of 16). Justin Brownlee averaged nearly 17 in that same period but also had similar difficulties (13 points, 5 of 11). “Our players … have done a really impressive job of counter punching,” coach Steve Lavin said, “but tonight we didn’t have the answer to their big runs.” The Storm shot just 36.8 percent.

3 Home away from home — Syracuse has recently marketed itself as New York’s college team, using the program’s consistent success and the high amount of alumni in the tri-state area to make that distinction. Based on the loud chants of, “Let’s Go Orange,” that consistently echoed and the deafening cheers as Syracuse pulled away in the second half, that is still accurate. St. John’s may call MSG home, but Syracuse continues to own it, improving to 8-2 there in the last three seasons.


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