Talent isn't the problem for St. John's, which showed it could go into Cincinnati and beat a ranked Big East team on the road. But experience is in short supply, which means this season is likely to be a roller-coaster ride for the Red Storm.
St. John's fortunes took a dip Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden when it lost a late lead, committed turnovers and missed critical free throws in a 58-56 loss to Rutgers. D'Angelo Harrison missed a go-ahead jump shot with nine seconds to play, and JaKarr Sampson missed a potential game-winning three-pointer with two seconds showing.
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Harrison finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists to lead St. John's (9-6, 1-2 Big East); Sampson added 12 points, and Sir'Dominic Pointer had 10 points and seven rebounds. Chris Obekpa had 11 rebounds and five blocked shots to tie Walter Berry's single-season record of 76 blocks after only 15 games.
Rutgers (11-3, 2-1) got 11 points from Dane Miller and 10 each from reserves Austin Johnson and Mike Poole.
"We're the same group, same team that made plays down the stretch against Cincinnati to get a big win, but we didn't make the plays against Rutgers that allow you to win in the Big East," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "We weren't able to make the plays to get over the hump . . . To Rutgers' credit, they found a way to win, and we were on the other side of that equation Saturday."
One of two free throws by Harrison with 3:31 left gave the Storm a 52-51 lead, but Miller hit a short jumper and a layup to give Rutgers a 55-52 advantage it never lost. Harrison got to the line two more times but missed two of four, and he stole the ball from Miller only to step out of bounds at the other end. Harrison fed Sampson for a layup that cut Rutgers' lead to 57-56, but after Poole missed the front end of a one-and-one, Harrison missed a jumper at the other end.
"I had a clean look, but talking to the coaching staff, I had a bigger man on me and should have went to the basket," Harrison said. "We were only down one point."
As for his errant foul shooting at the end, Harrison said, "It was a lack of concentration on my part. When the ball's in my hand, I have to convert."
Freshman Sampson struggled in his St. John's season debut and his Big East debut at Villanova, and he began his Garden debut in equally shaky fashion by missing four of his first five shots. While he was playing one-on-five, the Scarlet Knights were running up an early 13-2 lead, including a pair of threes by Eli Carter.
Lavin pulled Sampson to calm him down, and the ball began finding Harrison and Rutgers' lead began to shrink. The Scarlet Knight turned the ball over four straight times during a 10-0 St. John's run. The Red Storm finished the half with a 7-2 surge for a 27-23 lead and an 11-2 advantage in points off turnovers.