The two-time defending Ivy champs can shoot with anybody in the NCAA, and in 7-foot center Jeff Foote, they have a bona fide stud under the basket.
St. John's came into the Holiday Festival final last night at Madison Square Garden with a 9-1 record that included only a loss to No. 7 Duke. Then it ran into a Big Red machine that buried just about every open shot, and Cornell took the title, 71-66.
After beating Cornell last season, Red Storm coach Norm Roberts knew what Foote was capable of doing, so his line of 19 points, 11 rebounds, three assists and five blocked shots was impressive but not surprising.
What he didn't account for was the performance of forward Jon Jaques, who shot 7-for-8, including 5-for-6 from three-point range, and scored 20 points.
Cornell (9-2) shot 57.1 percent from the field and a white-hot 61.1 percent from beyond the arc. "They made huge shots," Roberts said. "Without a doubt, that's an NCAA team . . . We knew Foote was God because he hurt us last year, but they're a lot better than last year. They're deeper, and they have more shooters.
"That team, when they're hot, can beat anybody in the country. Maybe not Kansas, but they can win a game in the tournament easily."
Cornell didn't get rattled when St. John's put together a 13-2 run to take a 33-22 lead in the first half. Red Storm transfer guard Dwight Hardy (19 points) came off the bench to score 11 of his 13 first-half points during that stretch, including a 3-for-3 effort from three-point range.
But the Big Red scored the last five points of the first half to cut the Red Storm's lead to 36-31.
Midway through the second half, Cornell put together an 18-6 run for a 57-51 lead. The Big Red made seven straight shots in that stretch, including three-pointers by Chris Wroblewski, Ryan Wittman and Jaques, and Foote contributed five points.
St. John's rallied to forge a tie at 60 on yet another three-pointer by Hardy with 2:50 left, but Foote forced his way inside for a short bank shot to start Cornell's finishing 11-6 run.
The dagger was shoved into St. John's heart by Jaques' three-pointer from the right side for a 67-62 advantage with 31.5 seconds to play.
"That shot couldn't have been contested more than Justin Brownlee did," Roberts said.
The Red Storm got a four-point play of sorts at the end when Malik Boothe made the first of a one-and-one, missed the second and tapped the rebound to Hardy for a three-pointer from the corner that cut Cornell's lead to 69-66 with 15.5 seconds to go. But Cornell wrapped it up at the foul line.
Tournament MVP Foote said, "This is surreal. I've only been MVP once in a high school tournament, so to do it on this stage is unreal."
Winning the Holiday Festival, Foote added, "was a big-time program win. Teams realize we are for real. We can play with the big schools."