Andre Curbelo redeemed himself.
After missing 10 of his first 12 shots, he hit two big baskets down the stretch as St. John’s beat Temple, 78-72, in the opening round of the Empire Classic at Barclays Center on Monday night.
The Red Storm (5-0) will take on Syracuse, which beat Richmond, in the championship game Tuesday night.
With St. John’s trailing 72-70, Curbelo crossed over to the left, drove to the basket and was fouled. He hit the free throw to give the Red Storm a 73-72 lead.
On the Red Storm’s next possession, he again drove left and scored for a 75-72 lead.
“I had a tough year last year and I doubted myself at times, but my coaches and teammates give me all the confidence in the world,” Curbelo said after scoring 13 points. “All that was going through my mind is that it’s winning time. Everyone told me go out there and win it for us.”
Two free throws by Montez Mathis (16 points) with 17 seconds left and another by Joel Soriano with six seconds remaining clinched the victory.
Soriano had 15 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season. He and Mathis each shot 7-for-10 from the field. David Jones added 14 points and Posh Alexander had six points, six assists and six rebounds.
St. John’s went ahead 68-61 with 4:05 remaining on O’mar Stanley’s putback, but the Owls responded with a 7-0 run in the next two minutes and went ahead 72-70 on Zach Hicks’ three-pointer.
In between Curbelo’s two layups, Alexander’s tough defense forced a turnover as Damian Dunn dribbled the ball off his knee and out of bounds.
St. John’s trailed 25-12 before Mathis hit a jumper with 7:09 left in the first half to begin a 20-5 run that closed the half.
“This game shows that we’re getting better. Temple came out and hit us in the mouth, but we came out as that second-half team,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said. “Montez had a real outstanding game for us tonight. He looked like a poised senior.”
The Red Storm took their first lead of the game at 32-30 when Curbelo hit the floor to secure a steal and Alexander found Soriano in the paint for a layup.
“We had a lot of moments today when adversity hit us, but we stood together more than ever,” Soriano said. “Anything they threw at us, we hit it.”
Jamille Reynolds scored 21 points for Temple (2-3), shooting 8-for-10 from the field. Khalif Battle added 17 points off the bench.