QUEENS, N.Y. – Brown mounted a furious comeback at St. John’s, cutting a 17-point halftime deficit to four, but the Johnnies tightened up its defense and L. J. Figueroa scored 11 points over the last eight minutes to send the Bears to its fourth loss in five games.
After Stony Brook hit 14 three-pointers on Saturday night, the Red Storm (9-2) started the game hitting 5 of 11 outside shots, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc. The Bears (5-5) tightened its perimeter defense and held the Johnnies to only one more three-pointer for the last 12 minutes of the first half.
Unfortunately, St. John’s adapted and punished Brown on the inside, shooting 53 percent from two and converting 9 of 10 from the free throw line. On the other side of the ball, the Red Storm used its length and relentless pressure to force 11 turnovers, while limiting the Bears to 36 percent shooting from inside the arc and 20 percent from three.
With 20 minutes in the book, the Bears were down 17, 41-24.
“They turned us over 11 times in the first half and when you turn it over to St. John’s that usually leads to a two or three down at the other end,” Coach Mike Martin told St. John’s Athletics. “I thought that really hurt us to start. St. John’s was sending four or five guys to the paint and that’s what they do. They presented some problems with the different defensive looks.”
Bruno solved those problems in the second half, making 5 of its first 6 baskets and using a 7-0 run to cut the St. John’s lead to 10 by the first media timeout. While the offense was clicking, the interior defense was still struggling, allowing Mustapha Heron to go on his own 7-0 run to push the lead back to 17.
While the Johnnies continued its strong inside shooting, the Bears finally clicked from three, making 7 of its first 12 second half shots, to make it a 64-60 game with 7:53 left in regulation.
Coming out of the under-8 timeout, the game would turn back to the Red Storm for good.
After a failed three from Figueroa, Joshua Howard was given the outlet pass and missed an unopposed slam dunk that would have made it a two point game. Julian Champagnie passed the rebound to Figueroa, who drove the lane for a layup to increase the lead to six. After Heron made two free throws and Figueroa nailed another layup in the next minute, the lead was 70-60 with 5:30 to go.
St. John’s was never challenged the rest of the way, but all was not rosy for the Storm.
With 2 minutes left in the contest, Brandon Anderson recovered a Rasheem Dunn jumper and attempted to go coast-to-coast. Heron timed his jump perfectly to block the layup, but came down hard on his right ankle. After several minutes on the court, he unsuccessfully tried limping back to the bench with his arms draped over two players and eventually had to be carried to the locker room.
St. John’s Coach Mike Anderson met with Heron before coming to the post-game press conference, but he did not know the extent of the injury.
Heron finished with 21 points, 13 in the second half. Figueroa ended the night with a team-high 23 points, all the more impressive since he played only 6 minutes in the opening stanza after picking up 2 fouls in the game’s first 90 seconds. The two only made a combined 4 of 16 from three, but each shot 7-16 from the field and 6-6 from the charity stripe.
The Red Storm would make hay at the free throw line, making 24 of 26, while Brown only managed 8 of 14.
“In the second half our shots went in and we had St. John’s right where we wanted them – down four points with under eight minutes remaining,” said Coach Martin told Brown Athletics. “St. John’s is a good team. I can’t fault our effort at all.”
Despite the 82-71 defeat to a top-100 team from the Big East, there were plenty of positives for the Bears.
Anderson totaled a game-high 25 points, including 18 points on 7-14 shooting over the last 20 minutes. Following his productive evening, the Mahwah, N.J., native increased his career point total to 1,151, passing Brown announcer Russ Tyler (’68-’71), Matt Mullery (’06-’10) and Lou Mergo (’51-’55) for 20th place on the program’s all-time list.
Howard would finish with 15 points on 6-11 shooting, including 3 of 6 from beyond the arc. He also captured 7 rebounds. Tamenang Choh, who was hounded by the Johnnies big front court, had a stat-stuffing evening with 10 points, 11 rebounds and 6 assists.
As a team, the Bears made 56 percent of its two pointers and 47 percent (8-17) of its threes in the second half. In that same period, the team also had a 61 percent assist rate (compared to 38 percent in the first half), an 11-2 lead in second chance points and committed only 3 turnovers.
Defensively, the Storm were limited to 6-22 (27 percent) from beyond the arc. On the boards, Brown held St. John’s, the nation’s 18th best offensive rebounding team (36.5 percent) to 23 percent. For the evening, the Bears had five more total rebounds, 6 more offensive boards and an 11 percent advantage.
The Bears now have off for finals and will return to action at top-10 Duke on December 28. This should give Zach Hunsaker time to heal from his injured ankle, suffered at Stony Brook. The senior shooting guard played Tuesday, but struggled from the field (5 points, 1-7 from 3).
While the results have not gone its way of late, Tuesday night’s effort showed promise for the Bears. If Bruno can add an improved perimeter defense to its strong inside/outside scoring and rebounding, the team can give Yale a run for its money when the two teams open Ivy play on January 17 and 24.