Unless St. John’s finds some magical formula to win four games in four days in the Big East Tournament — and it hasn’t claimed the title since 2000 — the Red Storm figure to be watching March Madness on TV for the fourth straight year under Mike Anderson’s rule.
The magic often has been elusive in this season of inconsistency, especially since conference play tipped off.
After beating Connecticut in Hartford in January, St. John’s fell behind by 17 in the second half before losing to the 18th-ranked Huskies, 95-86, on Saturday at Madison Square Garden.
So the Red Storm, who got 20 points from AJ Storr, 18 points from Posh Alexander and 12 points and 11 rebounds from senior Joel Soriano on Senior Day, remained in eighth place after dropping to 7-12 in the Big East and 17-13 overall.
Anderson spoke afterward about a fresh start on March 8 when the conference tournament tips off at MSG.
“I think we can beat anybody and anybody can beat us,” he said. “That’s what I see. We’ve got one more game in the regular season. We’ll get prepared for a Marquette team that’s playing well and then get ready for the Big East Tournament.
“It’s a new season then. That’s when the automatic qualifier for the NCAA takes place. That’s going to be my message to our guys.”
Coach Dan Hurley’s UConn team finished its February run at 5-1 after a 3-5 January. In the last eight days, the Huskies paid back Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s for January losses.
“I think for us this was set up perfectly to get Seton Hall, Providence and St. John’s all in the same week and to be thinking ‘revenge week’ and to be thinking, ‘Let’s make a statement with our February and really finish February [strong],’ ” Hurley said.
Mission accomplished. The Huskies moved to 22-7 overall and 11-7 in the Big East, good for fifth. The top five get first-round byes.
This game could be a springboard for UConn. Jordan Hawkins delivered 20 points and Adama Sanogo added 18 to pace an attack with four double-digit scorers.
“Now I think when we come back into the building, we’re certainly going to have a lot of offensive confidence,” Hurley said. “ . . . You get a little taste of what the environment is going to be like.”
There were plenty among the 12,241 on hand chanting “Let’s go Huskies” at St. John’s second home.
When Joey Calcaterra sank a three-pointer from the left side, the Huskies had a 9-1 run and a 39-27 lead. Then the Red Storm cut it to seven, but Hawkins and Calcaterra nailed threes in a 10-2 burst, and the cushion swelled to 50-35.
Alexander delivered a three-point play and a three-pointer for a 6-0 run to close the half, but Connecticut scored the first six points of the second half to regain a 15-point lead.
When the Huskies’ 7-2 freshman center, Donovan Clingan, got one of his five blocks and then tipped in a miss at the other end, it was 62-45. UConn owned a 27-16 edge in second-chance points.
“Second-chance points, I thought, was the big, big difference in the game,” Anderson said.
St. John’s got it down to nine, then fell behind by 16, then slashed it to eight in the last minute.
Last time, it was different. The Red Storm defeated UConn, 85-74, on Jan. 15.
“This time we started really, really fighting back toward the second half when it got a little too late,” Alexander said. “ . . . . We were just more tough when we were at their home.”