St. John's Basketball Notebook

The Sports Xchange takes a look at St. John's going into its game against Pitt tonight at 7 at the Petersen Events Center.

GETTING INSIDE It was small consolation following a game that the Red Storm looked to be in position to win at halftime, but Villanova coach Jay Wright was impressed with St. John's after his team came away with an 81-71 victory at Madison Square Garden.

The Red Storm showed a lot of fight against the No. 4 Wildcats for 25 minutes, taking an early lead, surviving a Villanova surge at the end of the half, and taking a 49-48 lead with just under 15 minutes to play. And then ... the bottom dropped out. SJU went 11 possessions without a basket, and the scoreless stretch was too much for the team to overcome.

One difference between the two teams that was obvious: Villanova has a Scottie Reynolds, and SJU does not.

In other words, the Wildcats have a senior leader who has taken and made big shots throughout his career. When the game is on the line, the ball is in his hands, and he'll either take the big shot or find the open man with the better look.

The Red Storm doesn't have that, especially not in the backcourt. The team didn't do a bad job running plays during its scoring drought, but nobody could get the key shots to go down.

If and when that happens, Wright believes the Red Storm could be very dangerous. The visiting coach said that St. John's doesn't have any easy matchups for opponents to exploit, and can compete physically with any team in the Big East. All it lacks is that breakthrough moment that can propel the team to greater things.

St. John's is still waiting for that to happen this season, but the Big East offers a lot of chances for signature wins and the Red Storm will have that chance again on Thursday at Pittsburgh.

NOTES, QUOTES --Norm Roberts moved Anthony Mason Jr. into the starting lineup for the Villanova game in an effort to match up with the Wildcats guard-heavy rotation. That moved Dele Coker to the bench.

--Dwight Hardy hasn't had much trouble adjusting to the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. He is averaging 17.2 points in the five games the Red Storm have played at MSG, including making 18 of his 32 three-point attempts.

ON THE SPOT: A big problem for St. John's has been extended scoreless stretches. The issue isn't always turnovers, or poor shot selection, but rather that the team has a hard time finding easy baskets when it needs them. That creates the lulls that other teams have been able to exploit in Big East play.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't sense it coming, I think it just happened. They started hitting their shots and we started missing shots. They started beating us to loose balls, the '50-50' balls. For us to win games, we can't let that happen.'' -- St. John's guard Malik Boothe after the loss to Villanova.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL SEASON RECAP: The Red Storm dropped a pair of Big East games and saw their record fall to 2-5 in the Big East with defeats against UConn and Villanova. That puts the Johnnies in precarious position as the team prepares to hit the halfway mark of the Big East season with a pair of road games at Pitt and Rutgers on the horizon.

PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F D.J. Kennedy, F Sean Evans, F Anthony Mason Jr., G Paris Horne, G Malik Boothe. Key Subs -- G Dwight Hardy, F Justin Burrell, G/F Omari Lawrence, G Malik Stith, F Dele Coker, F Justin Brownlee, F Rob Thomas.

GAME REVIEW: St. John's 67, DePaul 47 Connecticut 75, St. John's 59 Villanova 81, St. John's 71

GAME PREVIEW: at Pitt, Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Petersen Events Center at Rutgers, Tuesday, Feb. 2 vs. West Virginia, Saturday, Feb. 6 vs. Louisville, Thursday, Feb. 11 at Notre Dame, Sunday, Feb. 14

IN FOCUS: Pitt is very tough to beat at home, but the Panthers aren't particularly scary. They have a lot of players who can score, led by Ashton Gibbs in the backcourt, but if St. John's can control the tempo the Red Storm can be in the game down to the wire and perhaps even steal one on the road.

The Panthers have their high ranking for a reason, but aren't a team that tends to overwhelm the opposition so the Red Storm should have their chances.

ROSTER REPORT: --F Anthony Mason Jr. got his first start of the season against Villanova. He finished in double figures for the first time in 2009-10 with 10 points, and also added three steals and a blocked shot.

--G Malik Stith has been as steady as they come off the bench for the Red Storm. He has nine assists over the last four games without a turnover, including four against Villanova.

--F Justin Brownlee missed the Villanova game because of a death in the family. He is expected back for the Pitt game this week.

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