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St. John’s aims for signature win vs. No. 24 UConn


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St. John’s and UConn are both lamenting what could have been in recent comeback attempts that fell short.

The longtime rivals will each be looking for a much-needed win on Sunday afternoon when the Red Storm host the 24th-ranked Huskies in a Big East Conference clash at Madison Square Garden.

St. John’s (13-10, 5-7 Big East) hasn’t played since Tuesday, when it trailed by 20 points with four minutes left before mounting a furious rally in a 75-69 loss to No. 15 Villanova.

UConn (16-7, 7-5) also ran out of time in its 74-68 loss Friday night at No. 25 Xavier.

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The Red Storm fell behind 66-46 before staging a 23-6 run. They had a chance to tie it after Tareq Coburn stole the ball from Caleb Daniels with 25 seconds left. But Coburn missed an open 3-pointer from the left wing and Jermaine Samuels all but iced the game for Villanova by hitting a pair of free throws.

Watching St. John’s score half as many points in the final four minutes as it did in the first 36 minutes left head coach Mike Anderson equal parts encouraged and frustrated.

“I think the energy has got to be there from the start,” Anderson said. “That’s the fire I’m looking for that you’ve got to have for 40 minutes.”

The narrow loss to a perennial national championship contender also served as a reminder of how time is running out for St. John’s, which is squarely on the outside of the NCAA Tournament bubble due to its sub-.500 Big East record and its struggles against ranked opponents. The Red Storm are 0-5 against the five league teams ranked in this week’s Associated Press poll — including an 86-78 overtime loss at UConn on Jan. 12.

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“The sense of urgency, you can see it,” Anderson said. “This team is going to be playing some of its best basketball right now.”

UConn is in a sturdier position for an NCAA bid but trying to regain some momentum as March approaches. The Huskies, whose non-conference slate featured a 115-109 double overtime win over Auburn — the current no. 1 team in the country — on Nov. 24, have lost three of their last four games, with the lone win an 80-72 victory over No. 18 Marquette on Tuesday.

On Friday night, UConn allowed Xavier to shoot almost 50 percent from the field (26-of-53). The Huskies never led in the second half and trailed 47-37 with 13:39 left before getting within three points three times, including twice in the final two minutes.

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“We didn’t come out with the same energy, especially on the defensive end, like we had the last game,” Huskies forward Tyrese Martin said. “I don’t know if we got complacent in the last game’s performance, but it just wasn’t there tonight for us defensively.”

The comeback bid ended when Andre Jackson, whose 3-pointer with 1:34 cut Xavier’s lead to 67-64, was whistled for a technical foul after he slammed the ball on the court upon fouling out 22 seconds later. It was the second costly technical foul for the Huskies, as head coach Dan Hurley was assessed a technical for arguing a foul called on Martin.

“I don’t think there was anything there that warranted a technical,” Hurley said. “So I’ll be calling up our head of officials, because I want an explanation on that.”

–Field Level Media

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