Friday, November 28, 2014

NIT Final: St. John's falls short against Gonzaga

Phil Greene IV shooting a three early in their loss to Gonzaga. Photo by Jason Schott.

By Jason Schott - Reporter / Assignment Editor and Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor - @JESchott19

The St. John's Red Storm lost to Gonzaga 73-66 in the Preseason NIT Championship Game on Friday night at Madison Square Garden. They fell behind by as many as 15, pulled to within three, but ultimately fell short.

St. John's fell behind by 15, at 56-41 on a Domantas Sabonis layup with 9:00 left in the game. St. John's responded with an 11-2 run to pull within six, at 58-52, on a D'Angelo Harrison jumper. It stayed around there until there was 2:03 left when Phil Greene IV hit a three to cut Gonzaga's lead to 67-63. After a Byron Wesley lay-up, Greene hit another three to pull St. John's within three at 69-66.

It stayed there, but St. John's wilted under the pressure in the final minute, as Rysheed Jordan and Harrison, who took an offensive foul, committed turnovers. Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos made two free throws with 10 seconds left to make it 71-66 Gonzaga and seal the win.

Pangos had 11 points, 9 assists, and 3 rebounds, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NIT. He said of the award, "It was an honor, but the entire team, you could kind of pick anyone. It's a well-rounded team. First game, Wiltjer played great. This game Domantas (Sabonis), Gary (Bell, Jr.), everyone made great plays. It's an honor but anyone on our team I feel like could have been most valuable."

Gonzaga's Kevin Pangos receiving his NIT MVP trophy. Photo by Jason Schott.
From St. John's, there was talk after the game about how coming so close against a Top 10 team was an achievement, but in actuality, was it really?

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin said of this after the game, "I know we did some good things, and so I was pleased with their fight back, their opportunistic smaller group that allowed us to come from 15 down at the 10:27 mark, and we had two chances to tie it or cut it to one either from the foul line or convert with a two-point field goal. So I think that was the positive, coming from 15 down, 10 minutes and change with a degree of foul trouble that we had going against a Top 10 team in the country. But we expect to win, and so the disappointment is that we didn't finish it off and ultimately win a championship here tonight."

Greene, who led St. John's with 20 points on 8-for-16 from the field including 4-for-9 on threes, said of the game, "We're proud that we fought back, how we competed in the second half. But we shouldn't have dug ourselves in that big a hole. Basically on the defensive end -- front penetration and getting big stops at the right time. So we just got to come out and not dig ourselves a hole."

Harrison had 15 points, 6 rebounds, and an assist for St. John's, and he said of the game,"I'm just mad that we lost. We went small and the bigs didn't hurt us in the end. We thought they was going to hurt us and that's not the case. I think (Byron) Wesley got two layups and that was two big plays of the game. So you credit them but we know that and we know we have to get better at that. So we'll go back to work."

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