CHARLOTTE, N.C. – The St. John’s Red Storm failed to capture a much sought after NCAA tournament victory as they fell to the San Diego State Aztecs 76-64 Friday evening. The loss marks the official end of the collegiate careers of Sir’Dominic Pointer, D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene IV, Jamal Branch, and Joey De La Rosa.
“I’m just proud of this group of seniors taking us on this ride, restoring pride in St. John’s, getting us back to the NCAA Tournament and representing the University in such a first-class manner and all earning their college degrees,” head coach Steve Lavin said. “This is the most gratifying year of my coaching career because of the opportunity to participate in this senior class’ journey here at St. John’s.”
The Red Storm were seeking their first NCAA win since a victory over Northern Arizona in the round of 64 in 2000. With the firepower of an experiences senior class led by 2,000 point scorer Harrison and 1,000 point scorers Greene and Pointer, expectations were high for this team that impressed in Big East play and earned an at-large bid.
However, a number of factors contributed to the Johnnies’ demise. Most notably, the suspension of junior center Chris Obekpa was critical to their defensive shortcomings. San Diego State held an 18-5 advantage in second chance opportunities and grabbed 13 offensive rebounds to the Red Storm’s seven.
“We played without him before,” Harrison said of Obekpa. “I think we only lost one game when he wasn’t out, so I think we’re like 6-1 when he didn’t play. We didn’t use that as an excuse. You can say it would be different, he’s 6’9”, does unique things. We didn’t use that excuse, we just tried to play hard.”
Early fouls, including a pair on Rysheed Jordan in the first 1:39 of the game, handcuffed Lavin in terms of the rotations he could implement.
“Foul trouble clearly affected our chances to be successful,” Lavin said. “Rysheed picking up that second so early in the first half and that’s when San Diego State put some distance…Obviously we’re a different team when Rysheed is on the floor…If Rysheed doesn’t get in foul trouble, I think this is a game that comes right down to the wire.”
Four of St. John’s seniors played the entire game before being taken out in the final minute. The lack of depth combined with foul trouble was too much for Lavin’s crew to overcome.
“Those kids were so tuckered out, that’s why I’m so proud of them,” Lavin said. “These kids are super heroes in my eyes. I look up to them and I told them as much after the game. I’ve had 27 years in the business and I probably admire this group more than any that I’ve coached.”
With their win over St. John’s, San Diego State advances to face Duke in the Round of 32 on Sunday.
Vincent Simone covers Quinnipiac, the MAAC, and Hofstra, among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow him on Twitter @VTSimone.