St. John’s cracks women’s AP Top 25 for 1st time since 2015

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: DEC 02 Women's St John's at Butler
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St. John’s earned its first ranking in seven years after matching the best start in school history, entering The Associated Press women’s basketball poll at No. 25 on Monday.

The Red Storm (11-0) equaled the 2004-05 team that also won its first 11 games with Sunday’s win over Providence. St. John’s had a victory over then-No. 13 Creighton on Dec. 4, helping coach Joe Tartamella’s squad earn its first appearance in the poll since Dec. 14, 2015.

“It’s great to be recognized and I’m proud for our kids,” he said. “We know we have a long way to go in the year. Obviously to be recognized nationally, you can’t take that for granted. It’s been a while and to know this group got us back in is pretty cool.”

South Carolina remained the top team in the poll, receiving all 28 first-place votes from a national media panel. The top five was unchanged with Stanford, Ohio State, Indiana and Notre Dame following the Gamecocks. The Irish won a showdown with then-No. 6 Virginia Tech 63-52 on Sunday. The Hokies fell to eighth. North Carolina and North Carolina State were sixth and seventh. UConn and LSU rounded out the top 10.

LSU (12-0) finished its non-conference schedule unbeaten for the first time since the 2002-03 season. The Tigers played their first Power Five opponent on Sunday, routing Oregon State by 32 points.

“We just have a confident bunch right now,” LSU coach Kim Mulkey said. “I wish we didn’t have to go home for the break. I wish we could go on and start some SEC play because that’s what builds a team.”

FEAST WEEK

There are some strong early week matchups with No. 3 Ohio State, No. 16 Oregon, No. 21 Arkansas and South Florida playing in a tournament in San Diego on Tuesday and Wednesday. No. 6 North Carolina plays No. 19 Michigan in the Jumpman Invitational on Tuesday.

HOLIDAY SEASON

It’s a short week with no teams playing Saturday or Sunday. There are only four games on Friday with Stanford-California the lone ranked game that day.

Curbelo, St. John’s wins Legends, top Syracuse 76-69 in OT

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NEW YORK – Andre Curbelo scored a career-high 23 points, Joel Soriano and David Jones had double-doubles and St. John’s dominated overtime for a 76-69 win over Syracuse on Tuesday night to capture the Vividseats Empire Classic at the Barclays Center.

Soriano had 19 points, a career-high, and 14 rebounds and Jones 18 and 13 and matched Curbelo’s six assists for the Red Storm (6-0), who edged Temple 78-72 in their Classic opener.

Both teams had shot clock violations in the final minute of regulation before the Orange missed a contested shot at the buzzer to leave the game tied at 65. The offensive woes continued in the extra sessions before Jones made a layup midway through.

Jesse Edwards quickly got those back with a pair of free throws but St. John’s reeled off six-straight points, which was too much for Syracuse to overcome. The Orange went 1 of 4 from the field, missed the front end of a one-and-one and had four turnovers in the extra session.

Four starters scored in double figures for Syracuse (3-2), led by Judah Mintz with 20. Edwards had 18, Chris Bell 12 and Benny Williams 11 with 10 rebounds. Joe Girard had a miserable night with four points on 1-of-10 shooting a night after scoring 31 in an overtime win over Richmond in the opening game of the classic.

Williams had five points and Mintz four in a 9-0 run that gave Syracuse a 19-8 lead midway through the first half. The Red Storm cut the deficit to three on a Curbelo 3-pointer with six seconds left but Mintz converted a three-point play with a second to go and the Orange led 35-29.

Syracuse got the lead back to 10 but St. John’s went on a 16-2 for a 56-52 lead when Montez Mathis made two free throws at 8:17.

Syracuse was 3 of 16 from 3-point range and shot 39%. St. Johnson was at 40% and 7 of 23 from 3-point range.

Daughters of Jayson Williams denounce his St. John’s HOF nod

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The daughters of former NBA All-Star Jayson Williams have denounced St. John’s University for its decision to induct their father into the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame because of accusations of neglect in their lives following his role in the 2002 fatal shooting of a limousine driver.

Tryumph and Whizdom Williams both wrote open letters they sent to The Associated Press, and also planned to send to St. John’s, that said the school should be ashamed for his induction into the class during Saturday’s homecoming weekend.

The 54-year-old Williams served more than a year in prison for the accidental shotgun death in his New Jersey mansion of chauffeur Costas Christofi.

Whizdom J Williams, an 18-year-old student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, accused her father of being an alcoholic and “a deadbeat father who lacks any sense of remorse.”

The sisters each accused Williams of neglect, emotional and verbal abuse and that the power forward who once signed a six-year, $86-million deal with the New Jersey Nets failed to provide adequate financial support. Tryumph Jaye Williams, a 19-year-old studying theater at DePaul University, detailed accusations that her sister was locked in a trash chute by Williams. Tryumph also lashed out at St. John’s as “possibly, fools, misusing money to honor Jayson Williams.”

“Why are you being honored and inducted into the hall of fame when I’ve always had to earn my survival, let alone my success, in spite of you? St. John’s University – you should be ashamed of yourself,” she wrote.

Williams killed Christofi with a 12-gauge shotgun while showing it to friends, having failed to check the weapon’s safety mechanism before snapping the gun closed. Williams then wiped down the weapon and placed it in the chauffeur’s hands, stripped off his own clothes, handed them to a friend and jumped into his pool, according to testimony. Williams’ lawyers maintained that the shooting was an accident and that his actions were driven by panic.

Williams made a tearful apology to the victim’s family when he was sentenced for the shooting in 2010.

But his daughters wrote that Williams never made amends with them.

“I knew that I couldn’t change who my father was or the way he viewed and treated me,” Whizdom wrote. “I knew that the contrition and apologies were never coming.”

She also wrote a poem about her father and dedicated it: “To the weakest man I know, Jayson.”

Williams declined comment to the AP. St. John’s planned to go ahead and include Williams in the weekend ceremony.

“Jayson Williams’s life journey is one that includes childhood trauma, time spent in a homeless shelter, addiction, incarceration, and recovery; issues that impact countless American families. The family dynamic between Jayson and his children is not a matter that St. John’s University will discuss,” St. John’s spokesperson Brian Browne wrote in an email statement to the AP.

“Part of the recovery and redemption process is restoring trust, accepting help, and finding comfort and support in the journey and that, coupled with his athletic accomplishments, is what St. John’s University recognizes with Jayson Williams during this Homecoming weekend.”

Williams averaged 8.1 points and 12.1 rebounds over nine seasons with the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Nets. The 6-foot-10 Williams was among the NBA’s best rebounders when leg injuries led to his retirement from the Nets in 2000.

Williams is scheduled to join a seven-person class at St. John’s induction ceremony that also includes 2016 Olympic high jumper Priscilla Frederick and 2016 Olympic fencing silver medalist Daryl Homer. Williams played three seasons at St. John’s under Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca. A co-captain in 1989-90, Williams was part of a St. John’s team that won 24 games and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. He was the 21st overall pick in the 1990 draft and finished with 3,472 points, 3,584 rebounds and 301 blocks during his pro career.

Williams, divorced from his daughters’ mother, Tanya, paid Christofi’s family more than $2 million in 2003 to settle a wrongful death lawsuit.

He has since founded the addiction rehabilitation program the Rebound Institute in Florida, that has been promoted by St. John’s as a success story.

Slater clutch, No. 8 Villanova rallies past St. John’s 66-65

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NEW YORK — Brandon Slater made the go-ahead free throws with 2.8 seconds left and No. 8 Villanova barely squeezed into the Big East Tournament semifinals, overcoming a 17-point deficit in the second half to beat St. John’s 66-65 on Thursday night.

Caleb Daniels scored 19 points for the second-seeded Wildcats (24-7), who will play 20th-ranked and third-seeded UConn or sixth-seeded Seton Hall on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

“We’ve been in tough situations,” two-time conference player of the year Collin Gillespie said.

Justin Moore had 15 points and Gillespie added 14 for Villanova, nearly knocked out quickly for the second consecutive season. Last year, a top-seeded Wildcats team was upset in the quarterfinals by eventual champion Georgetown.

Julian Champagnie scored 23 points in an excruciating defeat for the seventh-seeded Red Storm (17-15), resigned to hoping for an NIT bid after entering the season with NCAA aspirations.

“You saw a team that probably could and should have gone to the NCAA,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I wish we came together quicker on guys understanding their roles.”

St. John’s still hasn’t reached the Big East semifinals since winning the 2000 tournament – hard to believe considering the event is held on one of its home courts.

“It’s a rough one. I feel like the guys gave it all. I feel like we played hard,” Champagnie said. “It’s hard, to say the least.”

After blowing their big lead, the Red Storm went back ahead 65-64 when Stef Smith converted a three-point play with 2:08 left.

They had an opportunity to extend it, but Champagnie airballed a good look at a 3-pointer from the corner with 30 seconds remaining, and Villanova went inside on its final possession.

Jermaine Samuels, replaced by Daniels in the starting lineup due to back spasms, had a shot blocked and the ball stripped before Slater grabbed it and was fouled by Champagnie going up.

The senior forward knocked down both shots, and Smith’s try from halfcourt was wide at the buzzer as Villanova completed its largest comeback of the season.

“We work on free throws every day in practice,” Slater said. “When I stepped to the line my teammates and coaches were like, `Hey, we do this every day.”‘

Red Storm players pulled jerseys over their eyes after letting a big one slip away. St. John’s fell to 0-7 against ranked teams this season and 0-10 versus the top five seeds in this tournament.

“There’s been a lot of these type of games where it’s close,” Smith said. “It comes down to just one play that changes the outcome of a win or a loss.”

St. John’s, a familiar thorn in Villanova’s side the past few seasons, scored the first seven points of the second half and opened with a 14-4 run to build its largest lead at 44-27 on point guard Posh Alexander’s 3-pointer – only his second since Jan. 5.

But the Wildcats, ice cold early, finally started hitting shots and responded quickly with an 18-2 spurt.

“They hung in there and hung in there and their experience kicked in at the end,” Anderson said. “We know they’re going to make a run. They’ve been there and done that.”

Early in that stretch, Alexander went to the bench with his third foul at the 14:05 mark and the Red Storm up by 14. By the time he returned with 10:25 left, the margin was down to one following Slater’s three-point play.

“He’s a big part of their team. I thought that was really big,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.

Alexander checked out again after getting called for his fourth foul with 8:11 remaining, and two free throws by Daniels gave the Wildcats their first lead at 51-50.

Champagnie scored 22 of his 26 points in the first half of Wednesday night’s blowout win against DePaul and started strong in this one, too.

The junior forward had 13 points and seven rebounds before the break, and the Red Storm used a 9-0 run to build a 12-point bulge before taking a 30-23 lead into halftime.

Villanova went 7 of 30 from the field (23%) in the first period, committed eight turnovers and didn’t manage a single point in the paint.

“This conference is as good as it’s ever been this year. We just knew St. John’s was really good,” Wright said. “We weren’t down. We weren’t disappointed with how we played at half down seven.

“We just got out sync a little bit.”

All-Big East: Gillespie unanimous, Champagnie honored again

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NEW YORK — Villanova guard Collin Gillespie was the only unanimous pick for the all-Big East team Sunday, and St. John’s forward Julian Champagnie joined him as a repeat selection.

Connecticut guard R.J. Cole and forward Adama Sanogo also were on the first team, along with Marquette forward Justin Lewis and Seton Hall swingman Jared Rhoden.

Gillespie, the co-Big East player of the year last season, is averaging 16.3 points per game to pace the 11th-ranked Wildcats. He leads the conference in 3-point shooting (43.1%) and free-throw percentage (91.5%).

Champagnie is averaging 18.9 points and 6.6 rebounds. He just missed winning the Big East scoring title for the second consecutive year, nipped by Lewis in the final game of the regular season.

Two players from regular-season champion Providence were included on the all-Big East second team: guard Jared Bynum and center Nate Watson. Joining them were DePaul guard Javon Freeman-Liberty, Creighton forward Ryan Hawkins and Villanova guard Justin Moore.

Receiving honorable mention were St. John’s point guard Posh Alexander, Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner, Marquette guard Darryl Morsell and Xavier center Jack Nunge.

The conference’s head coaches vote for the all-conference teams and are not allowed to pick their own players.

The league’s player of the year will come from the all-Big East first team. The winner will be announced Wednesday afternoon at Madison Square Garden before the Big East Tournament opener, when the conference also reveals its coach of the year, freshman of the year and scholar-athlete of the year.

Creighton had three players on the all-freshman team: guard Trey Alexander, forward Arthur Kaluma and point guard Ryan Nembhard, who was chosen Big East rookie of the week six times before a season-ending wrist injury late last month.

Nembhard was a unanimous selection to the all-freshman team, along with Georgetown guard Aminu Mohammed and Marquette guard Kam Jones. UConn guard Jordan Hawkins also made the squad.

Martin’s big 2nd half leads No. 24 UConn past St. John’s

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NEW YORK- Tyrese Martin scored all 17 of his points in the second half and No. 24 Connecticut rallied past St. John’s 63-60 on Sunday at Madison Square Garden.

R.J. Cole added 14 points and Andre Jackson grabbed 16 rebounds to help the weary Huskies (17-7, 8-5 Big East) win despite shooting only 36% from the field. They swept the season series from St. John’s and moved into sole possession of third place in the conference standings behind Villanova and first-place Providence.

Montez Mathis had 14 points off the bench to spark the Red Storm (13-11, 5-8), who played without Posh Alexander for the second consecutive game. The star point guard, last season’s Big East freshman of the year, is sidelined with a sprained ankle.

Julian Champagnie and Aaron Wheeler each had 13 points for St. John’s. Dylan Addae-Wusu scored all 12 of his points in the first half.

Cheers for both schools echoed back and forth around Madison Square Garden coming down the stretch.

Left out of the starting lineup for the first time all season, Mathis scored six points in an 11-0 run for St. John’s that was capped by Stef Smith’s 3-pointer with 7:46 remaining. That gave the Red Storm a 55-48 lead – the largest for either team.

But the Huskies responded immediately with an 11-0 surge of their own. Isaiah Whaley was fouled on a putback and converted the three-point play to put UConn back in front with 3:46 left. Adama Sanogo banked in a shot off a pass from Cole to extend UConn’s lead to 59-55 with 2:19 to go.

A drive by Mathis with 2:10 left ended the Red Storm’s scoring drought at 5:36, but he missed a free throw that could have made it a three-point play.

Champagnie missed the front end of a 1-and-1, and Martin scored on a putback to make it 61-57 with 20.6 seconds left.

Wheeler drained a 3 with 14.3 seconds remaining to cut the margin to one before Cole sank two free throws to make it 63-60.

Guarded closely on the right wing, Wheeler missed a 3 just before the final horn that could have tied it.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: It was the second road game in 41 hours for Connecticut, capping a rugged stretch of three games in six days and four in nine – three away from home. The Huskies are still looking to hit their stride and really get on a roll. But they have the talent to be dangerous in March – they beat Auburn in double overtime on a neutral floor in November before the Tigers ascended to No. 1 in the nation.

St. John’s: Dropped to 0-6 against Top 25 teams in a frustrating season that was expected to yield more success. St. John’s went 1-4 in five regular-season games at Madison Square Garden, with the only win coming against last-place Georgetown.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY

The Big East issued a statement Saturday night scolding UConn coach Dan Hurley for criticizing some of the officiating in Friday night’s loss at Xavier.

Hurley said certain calls were “brutal” and “a joke.”

“Big East sportsmanship rules prohibit our coaches from public criticism of our game officials,” the release read. “We have established protocols in place for feedback by our schools regarding any officiating matter, and while we understand that tensions run high during the season, we expect these protocols to be honored.”

LINEUP CARD

UConn forward Akok Akok missed his fourth straight game with a tendon injury in his foot. He is day-to-day, the team said. … Mathis, who shot 1 for 14 in Tuesday’s loss to No. 15 Villanova, was replaced in the starting lineup by Smith.

UP NEXT

UConn: Returns home to face Seton Hall (15-8, 6-7) on Wednesday night. The Huskies lost 90-87 in overtime at then-No. 24 Seton Hall on Jan. 8 despite 18 points and 16 rebounds from Sanogo.

St. John’s: Plays at No. 25 Xavier (17-7, 7-6) on Wednesday night, the first of two meetings in two weeks. The Musketeers snapped a two-game skid Friday night with their 74-68 win over UConn.