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

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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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

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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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.

Ducharme leads No. 9 UConn to 75-57 win over St. John’s

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK- Freshman Caroline Ducharme scored a season-high 28 points and Dorka Juhasz added 16 to help No. 9 UConn beat St. John’s 75-57 on Sunday.

The Huskies, who only had eight healthy players again because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols, also got 18 rebounds and 10 assists from Olivia Nelson-Ododa.

UConn (11-4, 6-0 Big East) trailed 15-11 with 2:31 left in the first quarter before going on a 25-7 run over the next eight minutes to take control of the game. Ducharme had nine points during the spurt. Nika Muhl’s layup capped the run and made it 36-22.

The Huskies led 42-31 at the half.

St. John’s tried to rally behind Kadaja Bailey and Leilani Correa, who scored 21 and 19 respectively to lead the Red Storm (5-12, 1-6). They cut the deficit to 61-53 early in the fourth quarter, but Ducharme and Juhasz responded with 3-pointers and St. John’s, which has lost eight straight, couldn’t get closer the rest of the way.

STILL SIDELINED

The Huskies are still short-handed. Senior guard Christyn Williams (14.6 points per game) missed a third game because of COVID-19 protocols. She is expected to be out at least through Sunday. The Huskies are still without reigning national player of the year Paige Bueckers (left knee), who is expected back in mid-to-late February. Top recruit Azzi Fudd has been out since Nov. 22 with a right foot injury and forward Aubrey Griffin recently underwent season-ending back surgery.

BIG PICTURE

UConn: It’s difficult to tell how good the Huskies really are right now because of the injuries to key players. When healthy, they are one of the top teams in the country. They have two games left against currently ranked teams – South Carolina on Thursday and Tennessee on Feb. 6.

St. John’s: The Red Storm have been suffering through a difficult season with injuries and COVID-19 protocols making life difficult for coach Joe Tartamella. He is one win behind former coach Kim Barnes Arico’s record of 176 victories for the most all time in school history.

TIP-INS

UConn hasn’t lost a conference game since March 4, 2013, going back to the Huskies’ previous stint in the Big East. UConn won all of its regular season and tournament games when it was in the American Athletic Conference. … After its loss at Oregon on Monday, the Huskies are expected to fall out of the top 10 for the second time this season. UConn spent 16 consecutive years among the first 10 of the poll before falling to 11th in late December. … St. John’s honored Correa before the game for scoring her 1,000th career point at Providence on Jan. 14. This was the Red Storm’s first game at home since.

UP NEXT:

UConn: visits No. 1 South Carolina on Thursday.

St. John’s: visits Georgetown on Tuesday.

St. John’s adds Queens’ Tareq Coburn for upcoming season

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — The St. John’s men’s basketball team said Friday that Queens native Tareq Coburn will join the roster for the 2021-22 season.

Coburn recently wrapped a three-year career at Hofstra in which he averaged nearly 11 points per game and helped the Pride to the 2020 Colonial Athletic Association championship.

In 90 games with the Pride, Coburn shot 43.0 percent from the floor, 40.3 percent from beyond the arc and 81.0 percent from the free-throw line. His 170 made 3-pointers are 10th in Hofstra history.

Coburn began his collegiate career at St. Bonaventure in 2016-17, making 12 appearances for the Bonnies.

St. John’s extends Mike Anderson’s deal through 2027

Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK — St. John’s has given Big East Conference coach of the year Mike Anderson a six-year contract extension through the 2026-27 season.

The university announced the deal after Anderson delivered consecutive winning seasons in his first two years. Financial terms were not disclosed.

The Red Storm posted a 16-11 record this past season, including a 10-9 mark in the conference after being picked ninth in the preseason coaches poll. It marked the first time St. John’s finished with a league record of .500 or better since 2014-15.

St. John’s did not receive an NCAA Tournament bid and removed itself from consideration for a probable bid to the NIT due to COVID-19 precautions.

“In my time at St. John’s, Coach Anderson and the men’s basketball program have represented our University in a first class manner on the court, in the classroom and in the community,” university president Father Brian Shanley said in a statement.

Anderson, who won his 400th career game this past season, is one of only three active Division I coaches with at least 15 years of experience to have never had a sub-.500 season.

Anderson thanked the university, his staff and players.

“Their faith in our vision for St. John’s Basketball is humbling and I greatly look forward to carrying on our program’s tradition of success for many years to come,” he said.

Anderson is the first St. John’s coach to receive the Big East’s coach of the year award in three decades. The season also saw sophomore Julian Champagnie named the league’s most improved player and Posh Alexander named the freshman of the year and defensive player of the year.

St. John’s was 17-15 in Anderson’s first season and had the Red Storm in position for a postseason berth before the season was abruptly ended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Entering his 20th year as a head coach, Anderson owns a 402-226 career record. He has led his teams to 12 postseason appearances, including nine trips to the NCAA Tournament.