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Despite two tough losses, young St. John’s ‘getting there’

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NEW YORK- Friday night’s heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M showed, in just forty minutes of gametime, the range of emotions that the St. John’s Red Storm will endure this season.

After lacking energy in the first half and falling behind by 11 in the first half, the Red Storm surged back to take the lead in the second half, up 57-56 with 22 seconds remaining.

Texas A&M guard Elston Turner knocked down a jumper from the top of the with ten seconds remaining and St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey could not convert on either of two free throws with seconds remaining, allowing the Aggies to escape, 58-57.

“What I shared with the team after was similar to last night, in terms of the talking points,” said St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin after the game. “There were stretches we played really well, but by we put ourselves in a hole…and down the stretch, we weren’t able to put a team away because of things within our control.”

The up-and-down emotions of the past few months are becoming a difficult reality of competing at the high-major level, something that this program has not experienced since the early 2000s.

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Around this time last season, Lavin was helping to bring nothing but good news to a reemerging St. John’s program.

Off the court, news broke almost weekly of another top 100 recruit pledging to the Red Storm. On the court, Lavin was leading a group of nine seniors, a collection that had underachieved up to that point in their careers, to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in nearly a decade.

As summer came, the difficult news began.

Four players have decommitted in as many months, including two of the three players from the Class of 2011 who were ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier this season.

Former point guard commit Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton. Forwards Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson remain open in their recruitment. Big man Ricardo Gathers still has St. John’s at the top of his list, he says, but will sign in the Spring.

Kyle Anderson, a prized 2012 prospect from powerhouse St. Anthony (Nj.), turned down the Red Storm and signed with UCLA.

The roster that remains in Queens, though lacking depth and size, is a reason for a reasonable amount of optimism, with three top 100 recruits and two more highly-touted junior college transfers.

But if these past two games at Madison Square Garden have proven anything, an elusive truth of a climb toward national prominence has emerged:

Reasonable expectations will take you far.

A critical fan base has been quick to discount the progress under Steve Lavin, while others have talked of a deep run in the NCAA tournament with this inexperienced group of first year players.

The reality is that this team has and will progress through a natural flow of triumphs and defeats. They will lose games that they should have won. Perhaps they will steal a win on the road in an unfriendly environment.

And it seems that is the attitude they preach.

“We’re getting there. We know how talented we are. As a defensive team, we have to get stops, get rebounds, and we’ll be fine,” said freshman guard Phil Greene, who has 10 points and three rebounds in the loss.

The most remarkable thing about this team is their sense of togetherness. They seem to find safety in numbers, seeing themselves as one unit, instead of six different players.

Freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison, who had 12 points against A&M, was quick to come to the defense of his teammate.

“You can’t just blame Nuri. Everybody missed free throws. I feel like I lost the game,” said Harrison. “I’m pretty sure [junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa] feels the same way, and [freshman forward Moe Harkless] missed two free throws.”

Then, in a unique show of humor after such a loss, he looked at Greene, who sat at the opposite end of the media table.

“Phil was 100% [from the line], so he’s good.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Video: Wildcats make it the “Blue And White House”

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Villanova’s title last month gave the Wildcats the opportunity to visit with the President of the United States on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“It is the Blue and White House today,” President Barack Obama said, “because we’re giving it up for the 2016 NCAA champion Villanova Wildcats.”

The Wildcats were customarily honored by the President on Tuesday for their 77-74 title game win over North Carolina that featured Kris Jenkins’ now-legendary 3-pointer at the buzzer.

“It might be maybe the best title game of all-time,” Obama said. “Just the last few seconds could be a documentary.”

The President mentioned Marcus Paige’s circus shot that tied the game shot seconds before Jenkins’ game-winner.

“A lot of teams would have had their spirit broken,” Obama said. “The wildcats, they took control. They responded.”

That response was Jenkins’ 3 as time expired to place himself in the game’s lore with perhaps the best finish ever for an NCAA championship game.

“That was a good shot,” Obama deadpanned. “It was like a Christian Laettner shot, it was like a Jimmy V(alvano) running up and down the court shot. Charles Barkley apparently jumped out of his seat, which he doesn’t do very often these days.”

Villanova also presented the 44th President with a No. 44 jersey that the team used on Dec. 7, 2015, at Pearl Harbor against Oklahoma.

“This is a great day for Villanova University,” coach Jay Wright said.

Wright didn’t get out of the day without a goodnatured needling from the President.

“Best-dressed man in college basketball,” Obama said. “The George Clooney of coaches.”

The President also noted that Vice President Joe Biden picked ‘Nova to win it all before the tournament.

“This team possessed something that the coaches preached since day one,” Obama said, “and that’s attitude.”

 

TCU’s leading scorer leaving school

Jamie Dixon
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TCU’s leading scorer is leaving the school and college basketball behind.

Chauncey Collins, who had two years of eligibility remaining, will pursue a start to his professional career, the school announced Tuesday night. The Horned Frogs also announced the departure of little-used freshman guard Lyrik Shreiner.

“We would like to thank Chauncey and Lyrik for their contributions to TCU,” coach Jamie Dixon said in the school’s press release.  “We wish Chauncey the best as he looks to begin his professional career to provide for his family and will support Lyrik as he continues his college career at another university.”

Collins started 24 games and averaged 12.3 points on 38.7 percent shooting while dishing out 2.0 assists and grabbing 3.0 rebounds in 31.0 minutes per game. His professional career would presumably begin overseas or in the D-League.

His departure paves the way for incoming recruit Jaylen Fisher to take the reigns at point guard immediately in Dixon’s first year coaching at his alma mater. Fisher is a consensus top-50 recruit who pledged to TCU following decommitting from UNLV.

Shreiner appeared in 22 games last year, averaging 5.4 minutes per appearance.

Cal’s Mathews to transfer

Reed McConnell, Jordan Mathews
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The graduate transfer pool just got a considerable addition.

Cal guard Jordan Mathews intends to graduate this summer and transfer to another school, where he would be immediately eligible, he announced Tuesday evening.

“This decision was not easy, but I am incredibly thankful for this experience,” Mathews wrote on social media. “The relationships I have developed will last a lifetime.

“I will always be a CAl Bear and I will forever cherish my time in Berkeley.”

Mathews’ decision now puts three years’ experience plus last year’s stats of 13.5 points on 42.2 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 1.3 assists on the market just hours before the calendar flips to April. He will certainly not lack for suitors, and it would appear Gonzaga has already emerged as the favorite, per multiple reports. Also of note is his brother, four-star guard Jonah, will be a freshman at USC.

The loss is a significant one for the Golden Bears as the 6-foot-3 Mathews was set to help anchor the perimeter for another season along with Jabari Bird. Coach Cuonzo Martin, though, does have incoming point guard commit Charlie Moore plus getting Ivan Rabb back makes for a solid enough core, especially if Kentucky transfer Marcus Lee, who is visiting this week, decides to pledge. Even if things do break its way there, losing Mathews heading into his senior season is a setback Cal would have otherwise like to have avoided.

Forward Charles Buggs to leave Minnesota program

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 9: Charles Buggs #23 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers drives against Alex Austin #44 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the first round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 9, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Illinois defeated Minnesota 85-52. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
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Tuesday afternoon the Minnesota basketball program announced that forward Charles Buggs would be leaving the program, making him the second player to depart since the end of the season. The 6-foot-9 Buggs, the last remaining link to Tubby Smith’s tenure at Minnesota, has graduated and will be eligible immediately at another Division I school as a result.

Buggs started 21 of the 28 games he played in last season, averaging 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 24 minutes of action per contest. He joins guard Kevin Dorsey as players who have left Richard Pitino’s program this offseason.

After redshirting as a freshman in 2012-13, Buggs played in 16 games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14 and for his career averaged 4.1 points and 2.1 rebounds per contest. With size being at a premium on the transfer market at this point in the spring, it will be interesting to see which schools reach out to Buggs with an eye towards adding another front court option to their rotation for the 2016-17 season.

Pac-12 all-star team to tour Australia in July

Oregon State's Stephen Thompson Jr., center, celebrates with fans after he made free throws with no time left on the clock to give Oregon State a 71-69 win over Utah in an NCAA college basketball game in Corvallis, Ore., on Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez
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While the majority of summer tours in college basketball consist of teams making the trek overseas (or to Canada) together, there are all all-star teams put together to represent a conference or some other entity. The Pac-12 has put together an all-star team of sorts in recent years, and on Tuesday they announced the 12-member squad that will visit Australia to play three games in early July.

Two of those games will be played against the Australian men’s national team, which will be preparing for the Summer Olympics to be played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in August.

The coaching staff will be led by Mike Montgomery, who led the programs at both Stanford and California before retiring in 2014, with former Stanford head coach Trent Johnson and former Stanford players Casey Jacobsen and Brevin Knight serving as his assistants. Ten of the conference’s 12 teams will be represented on the roster, with Oregon (which has some players hoping to reach the Olympics for other countries) and UCLA being the teams without a player making the trip.

Also of note for Oregon is the fact that they’ll be taking a summer trip to Spain in August, so their players are already set up for a busy summer.

Arizona and Oregon State will each have two players on the roster, with Kadeem Allen and Chance Comanche making the trip representing Sean Miller’s program and Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson Jr. doing so for Wayne Tinkle’s program. Of the 12 players two earned honorable mention all-conference honors (USC’s Jordan McLaughlin and Washington State’s Josh Hawkinson), and Colorado’s Wesley Gordon was a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team selection.

Below is the full roster, and the team is scheduled to depart for Australia from Los Angeles July 7.

G Kadeem Allen (Arizona)
C Chance Comanche (Arizona)
G Tra Holder (Arizona State)
G Stephen Domingo (California)
F Wesley Gordon (Colorado)
F Drew Eubanks (Oregon State)
F Stephen Thompson Jr. (Oregon State)
G/F Dorian Pickens (Stanford)
G Jordan McLaughlin (USC)
G Lorenzo Bonam (Utah)
F Matisse Thybulle (Washington)
F Josh Hawkinson (Washington State)