St. John’s was Dr. Jekyll when it left the Garden on Wednesday night after beating DePaul. It was Mr. Hyde when it returned Thursday for its quarterfinal meeting with Marquette.
The Red Storm have been the definition of inconsistent, failing to win two straight since Jan. 5, and St. John’s continued the trend in this week’s Big East Tournament. It was stellar in the opener and abysmal as second-seeded, 23rd-ranked Marquette trounced the Storm, 86-54, before a sellout crowd of 19,812. It was St. John’s most lopsided loss of the season.
“Tonight we just let it go a little bit,” Justin Simon said.
The Storm (21-12) would appear to have done enough to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015 but would have felt more secure going into Selection Sunday with a win over Marquette.
“I definitely believe we’re going to be in the tournament,” Shamorie Ponds said. “I’m not going to be nervous. If we get in, we get in. We don’t, we don’t. But I believe we should be.”
The landscape could change if the strongest mid-majors — No. 14 Nevada (Mountain West), No. 18 Buffalo (MAC) and VCU (Atlantic 10) — don’t win their conference tournaments. If they don’t, each of those conferences would get two teams in the 68-team draw and cut into the number of at-large bids for power conferences.
St. John’s coach Chris Mullin was asked to make the case for his team.
“I’m not really here to make a case,’’ he said. “We did what we did and we’ll see what happens Sunday. No politicking. I stay out of politics.”
Marquette (24-8) ended a four-game losing streak and will be seeking its first trip to the Big East Tournament final. It will face Seton Hall in Friday’s 9 p.m. semifinal.
St. John’s beat the Eagles in their two regular-season meetings and had stifled Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard, who totaled only 19 points and shot 7-for-32. This time Howard was able to get free when St. John’s switched defensive standout Simon off him, and he scored 30 points.
“He had a night,” Ponds said. “He was having his way.”
Added Mustapha Heron: “He did what a Player of the Year would do.”
Marquette kept the Storm from running their lethal fast break and held St. John’s to 32.8-percent shooting, a season low. When they had the ball, the Eagles were able to get the shots in the spots they wanted.
“They hadn’t done it to us this year, but I’ve seen them do that to a lot of good teams,” Mullin said. “They got free in the open floor.”
The Red Storm led for only 16 seconds, at 3-2. Howard scored 10 points in a 25-11 run that put the Golden Eagles ahead 36-22. They led 38-26 at halftime, when St. John’s didn’t have a point off nine Marquette turnovers.
St. John’s stirred the crowd early in the second half with a 9-2 run to get within 43-37 with about 15 minutes to play, but Howard had 12 points in a 23-2 run for a 66-39 lead with 9:34 left.
“We knew we’d have to throw a punch back right there to hang in and extend the lead,” Howard said.
Simon had 14 points and Ponds had 13. Marvin Clark II was scoreless in 26 minutes before fouling out with 7:29 to play and the game out of hand. Sacar Anim had 13 points and Sam Hauser had 10 for the Golden Eagles.
Mullin said he doesn’t intend to watch the games that could have an impact on the Storm’s NCAA chances. He is giving the team two days off, and it will reconvene on campus Sunday to practice and watch the selection show.
The Red Storm need as few surprises as possible between now and then.