Madison Square Garden—Riding a three-game winning streak, St.John’s had to play an undefeated West Virginia at the “World Famous Arena.” It is the Johnnies 53rd appearance in the MSG Holiday Festival.
St Johns (8-2) got 17 points from their leader LJ Figueroa and 13 points along with 4 assists from Rasheem Dunn to beat the previously unbeaten West Virginia (7-1) team 70-68 in front of 7,281 at the Garden.
The Johnnies shot a dismal (14-42) 33.3 percent from the floor and (1-12) 8.3 percent from beyond the arc. With their shooting woes St.John’s used other facets of their game to muster up a gut-wrenching win.
“We’re young, which is not an excuse, but we’ve got a lot young guys and we’re coming off having some success, and we didn’t handle very well. Our preparation wasn’t very good. I kept telling them, that Mike Anderson is a really good coach, he’s going to have his guys ready to play. They’re going to be prepared and we just didn’t do a very good job.” West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins commented after the game.
The Mountaineers pushed the tempo and snapped the ball across the court which led to open perimeter shots for Sean McNeil who made the Johnnies pay in the first half. But it was forward Oscar Tshiebwe working hard on the blocks for WVU who gave St.John’s a problem scoring 8 points in the post.
Knotted at 36 apiece at the break, the Johnnies was feeling good about their chances despite not having shot the ball particularly well in the first twenty minutes of the contest.
This game marked the 38th time in series history they square off and the first time in a non-conference matchup since 1985. The Red Storm recorded wins in the final two meetings.
St. John’s forced 22 Mountaineers turnovers, converting them to 22 points in transition on the opposite end of the court.
The game was close, with both teams flying up and down the court exchanging baskets. The Johnnies was able to push its lead to double-digits until a late run by the Mountaineers knocking down some threes and playing better perimeter defense.
West Virginia sprinted out to a 9-0 run which had the Johnnies on their heels and looking for answers to stop the bleeding. Sophomore guard Sean McNeil tied the game at 68 with a deep three from the left elbow.
On the other end of the court, Rasheem Dunn dug in and stole the ball attempted to drive to the basket and got fouled. With five seconds remaining in the contest, he hit both free throws to win the game.
West Virginia Sean McNeil had 13 points and forward Derek Culver chipped in 12 points and 18 boards.
“I feel like I could play on the big stage, I thank Mike Anderson to grant me that scholarship and take me in as family.” Dunn said in the media conference after the game.