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St. John's squanders 16-point lead, loses by 19 to No. 6 West Virginia

Desperation is the most unreliable of emotions.

Desperate for a big win over No. 6 West Virginia, St. John's swarmed energetically on defense in the first half and scored on the inside, and when Paris Horne began the second half with two jumpers for a 16-point lead, the Red Storm seemed primed to pull it off.

But as soon as the Mountaineers asserted their talent and coach Bob Huggins switched to a 1-3-1 zone that took St. John's out of its offense, the Storm's desperation became a negative emotion that eventually turned to despair.

Da'Sean Butler scored 24 of his 33 points in the second half and was 7-for-7 from three-point range as West Virginia came back to rout St. John's, 79-60, Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The loss was the fifth straight in conference play and eighth in the past 10 games for the Red Storm (12-10, 2-8 Big East).

West Virginia (19-3, 8-2) got its sixth straight win, shooting 65.5 percent in the second half after being held to 25 percent in the first half.

The Mountaineers also got 13 points from Kevin Jones, 12 points and 10 rebounds from Devin Ebanks and 10 points from Wellington Smith.

After Horne's two jumpers gave St. John's a 38-22 lead, the Mountaineers outscored the Storm 57-22 in the final 18:41.

"They were overwhelmed," Butler said of St. John's. "I wouldn't say they gave up. I'd say the fire went out, if anything."

Coming off a crushing road loss Tuesday at Rutgers, one of two teams below them in the Big East standings, the Red Storm put together what might have been its best first half of the season in taking a 33-22 lead.

Forward Justin Burrell had 10 points and seven rebounds off the bench and reserve forward Justin Brownlee added eight points and four boards. But each made just one more basket in the second half. Horne was the only other player in double figures with 12 points.

St. John's had a 41-30 lead when Huggins went to the zone, but after Anthony Mason Jr. hit a jumper over it the first time down, West Virginia went on an 18-2 run for a 48-45 lead it never lost.

"We knew they were going to play zone," Red Storm coach Norm Roberts said. "It's not something you can really simulate in practice because of their length . . . The zone slows down the game, so when you're not getting stops at the other end, that's why you can't get out and run."

Asked what he blamed for the loss, Roberts said: "It's defense. We've got to stop them. In the second half, we didn't pressure the basketball as much as we needed to on the wings. We allowed them to get into their cutting offense to get layups."

Near the end, a "Fire Roberts" chant went up from the student section near St. John's bench. It was a sign of the pressure mounting on his program.

"Every loss is worse than the last loss," Burrell said. "You can't get used to it."

New York Sports