Just when it looked as if St. John’s was on to something, it turns out that maybe it isn’t.
Coming off a road win over then-No. 6 UConn and looking to extend their winning streak to three games, the Red Storm arrived for their 2022-23 Madison Square Garden debut Friday night against Villanova.
They met the moment with their worst offensive performance — a season low in points and shooting percentage — in a 57-49 Big East loss before 13,504.
The Red Storm were especially bad down the stretch after Posh Alexander’s layup with 6:47 left gave them a 46-42 lead. From that point on, St. John’s shot 1-for-7 and had five turnovers.
“What a crowd, what an atmosphere,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said, “and we just didn’t do what we were supposed to do. It wasn’t because of a lack of effort. I thought our defense was good. But you’ve got to make shots.”
“It’s very frustrating,” Joel Soriano said. “The atmosphere was good. We had everything we [could] ask for there. We just have to finish.”
St. John’s (13-7, 3-6) shot 32%, including 3-for-12 on three-pointers, lower than the previous low of 35% in a win over New Hampshire. Its previous low for scoring was 60 in a loss at Iowa State. The Red Storm also committed 17 turnovers.
Soriano had 14 points and 16 rebounds — his Division I-leading 17th double-double — and Dylan Addae-Wusu had 12 points for St. John’s.
Caleb Daniels had 16 points and Brandon Slater 14 for the Wildcats (10-10, 4-5).
Anderson thought the Red Storm got the scoring opportunities they needed and just weren’t making them.
“If you’re getting layups, what other kind of shots do you want?” he said. “We had guys who had open looks, [so] shoot the basketball. We had Joel in the post. The bottom line is you’ve got to put the ball in the hole.”
“I blame myself a lot,” Soriano said. “I’m going 4-for-11. I missed chippies at the rim.”
Villanova’s performance was no work of art, either. The Wildcats shot 36.5% from the floor and committed 16 turnovers, but they made eight three-pointers and all the winning plays at the end. Villanova made five of its last seven shots, didn’t commit a turnover and allowed St. John’s just one offensive rebound.
Tied 28-28 after a first half with eight lead changes and seven ties — neither team led by more than three points — St. John’s appeared to have found an answer in Soriano. The Red Storm went inside to him repeatedly early in the half and he delivered seven of his points for a short-lived 35-32 lead.
Villanova evened it up but the Red Storm scored six unanswered points for a 41-35 lead with 10:58 to play.
Villanova’s Eric Dixon scored inside over Soriano with 4:31 to play for a 47-46 lead and the final lead change.