That sound St. John's heard Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden was its place on the NCAA Tournament bubble going "Pop!" The Red Storm gained an early second-half lead against No. 20 Pittsburgh, but the Panthers held D'Angelo Harrison scoreless in the second half by putting him through the meat grinder and turned a close game into a 63-47 rout.
While Red Storm scoring leader Harrison was enduring a 1-for-12 shooting performance for six points, pure-shooting point guard Tray Woodall made himself right at home, pouring in 25 points and shooting 8-for-14 to lead Pitt (21-7, 9-6 Big East). JaKarr Sampson topped St. John's (16-11, 8-7) with 14 points and Phil Greene had 11, but the Red Storm shot only 25.9 percent in the second half and went 2-for-15 from three-point range overall.
"In this league, it comes down to who can sustain a grinding, methodical style of play that allows you to be successful," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "Today, Pittsburgh dismantled us."
With three regular-season games left, including road contests at Providence and Notre Dame before the home finale against Marquette, St. John's likely must win two of three plus a couple of games in the conference tournament to get back in the NCAA picture.
"We squandered this opportunity here in the Garden against a good Pittsburgh team," Lavin admitted. "It's clear that we have some work to do. While there are some positives in terms of our three quality wins over Connecticut, Notre Dame and Cincinnati and our strength of schedule, we need to get some wins both in the regular season and the conference tournament if we're going to have an argument for us being in the NCAA Tournament."
St. John's trailed the entire first half but got to the locker room down by only three points. The Red Storm attacked the rim in the second half and took its first lead at 31-30 on two free throws by Sampson. That was the first of four lead changes that came on consecutive possessions. A Woodall three put Pitt in front for good at 35-33.
The Red Storm trailed 42-39 and had the ball, but committed three straight turnovers to ignite a 13-2 Pitt run that broke the game open at 55-41. The Panthers had a 17-4 advantage in points off turnovers, including 13-2 in the second half.
"We were kind of in the desert offensively," Lavin said. "That's a credit to Pittsburgh in terms of their defense, but we could have done things more effectively in terms of being more patient and using better shot selection. We couldn't overcome the number of turnovers and the easy points that we allowed Pittsburgh to get."
No one was more frustrated than Harrison, who followed an air ball from three-point range with two missed foul shots early in the second half when St. John's trailed by only five.
"If we had converted some of the shots we usually make, it would have been a different ballgame," Harrison said. "Credit Pittsburgh. They capitalized on our misses, and we turned the ball over."