GETTING INSIDE St. John's coach Norm Roberts was sounding a familiar refrain after another loss by the Red Storm.
"They're down," Roberts said of his players after St. John's was edged by visiting Marquette 63-61 in overtime Wednesday night. "It's a resilient team. They have a lot of character. We'll have a good practice and get ready for Pittsburgh (Saturday at noon). That's life in the Big East.''
Life hasn't been too good in the Big East for St. John's for quite some time as it clinched an eighth consecutive losing season inside the conference. The loss dropped the Red Storm to 15-12, 5-10 in the Big East.
The last time St. John's won more Big East games than it lost was 2002, also the last time it went to the NCAA Tournament -- another drought that will continue unless the Red Storm somehow wins the conference tournament.
St. John's has three regular-season games left and could at least build some momentum for the postseason if it can upset No 12 Pitt (21-7, 10-5) on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.
St. John's has lost four games in a row to Pitt and five of its last six, including 63-53 on the road on Jan. 28.
MARQUETTE 63, ST. JOHN'S 61: Jimmy Butler, after being stripped by Malik Boothe, recovered the loose ball along the baseline and made a 17-footer at the overtime buzzer to give Marquette (18-9, 9-6) the victory. D.J. Kennedy led St. John's with 20 points and Hardy added 12. Lazar Hayward topped Marquette with 22 points.
--This may not be the greatest year in St. John's history, but one thing the Red Storm proved this week is that the team is not a bunch of quitters. Especially since they turned down their coach's invitation to do so.
According to a story in the New York Daily News, St. John's captain Malik Boothe was bothered by his team's moribund attitude as it got ready for its Feb. 18 practice. A disappointing home loss to Seton Hall had just ended the Red Storm's two-game winning streak, and momentum seemed to have dissipated.
So he went and told coach Norm Roberts, and Roberts gave his team a choice: It could forfeit the remaining games on the schedule, or it could continue its strong stretch of play in February by going to Tampa and knocking off South Florida.
St. John's chose the latter, not surprisingly, and played one of its best games of the season in blasting the Bulls by 18 and effectively knocking their opponents out of NCAA Tournament contention. USF, which had been making a charge into contention, now will likely be NIT-bound.
--St. John's shot a miserable 33 percent in the loss to Seton Hall but rediscovered its touch the following game against South Florida. The Red Storm knocked down 59 percent of its shots against the Bulls, the best it has shot all season.
--Also deserving credit for the team's victory over South Florida was the defense, particularly on Bulls guard Dominique Jones. Jones entered the game averaging nearly 25 points in conference games, but he went 6-for-18 from the field against the Red Storm.
ON THE SPOT: The Red Storm looked great against South Florida but was awful the previous game against Seton Hall. It missed its first 11 three-point attempts against the Pirates, a cold spell that SJU can't afford if it hopes to outscore its Big East opponents.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I knew if I challenged their character and their toughness -- I know the type of group I have -- they'll fight back no matter what. They did today.'' -- St. John's coach Norm Roberts to the New York Daily News, on his approach before the Red Storm's game against South Florida.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: St. John's rebounded from a crushing home loss to Seton Hall by going to South Florida and shocking the Bulls. The split last week left the Red Storm in 13th place at 5-9 in the conference, but just a couple of games away from being in the top half on the standings.
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.
St. John's 69, Notre Dame 68
Seton Hall 59, St. John's 50
St. John's 74, South Florida 58
Marquette 63, St. John's 61 (OT)
vs. Pittsburgh, Saturday at noon at Madison Square Garden
at Syracuse, Tuesday, March 2
at DePaul, Friday, March 5
IN FOCUS: St. John's is once again guaranteed a losing record in Big East play but would gain a large measure of respect if it could somehow upset Pitt or Syracuse.
--G D.J. Kennedy scored 20 points Wednesday, the fourth time he has reached that mark this season and the 10th game of 20 or more in the junior's career. He has scored a combined 37 points in the last two games, including 17 in a victory at South Florida on Feb. 20, since being held to a career-low two by Seton Hall in a loss on Feb. 17.
--G Malik Boothe was an unlikely candidate to hit the three-point field goal that sent the game into overtime -- it was just his seventh three of the season. Boothe, though, is averaging 6.8 points in the last five games after averaging 1.4 points in the previous 10 games.
--G Dwight Hardy scored 12 points, including making 2 of 4 shots from three-point range. Hardy is shooting 50 percent (9 of 18) on three-pointers in the last four games.
--F Anthony Mason Jr. reached the 1,000-point mark in the victory over South Florida. He entered the game needing seven points to become the 45th player in Red Storm history with 1,000 or more points, and finished with exactly seven to finish right on the number.
St. John's Basketball Notebook
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