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St. John’s lets another tight game slip away in crushing loss to Creighton

So many chances. So many close games. So few victories.

St. John’s again couldn’t close out a tight game against a quality opponent. The game Wednesday night was at Carnesecca Arena, but the location really doesn’t matter. History just keeps repeating itself. This time, the Red Storm wasted a nine-point lead. Even an injury to Creighton point guard Ryan Nembhard couldn’t help them.

So, a disappointing season that began with such high hopes continued on its dismal path with an 81-78 loss to the Bluejays after yet another poorly executed finish was the Red Storm’s undoing.

Montez Mathis’ runner in traffic didn’t draw iron with five seconds left, St. John’s threw the ball away with a chance to pull even in the final seconds and Aaron Wheeler’s desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer was off as the Red Storm (15-12, 7-9 Big East) fell to 3-5 this season in games decided by five points or less.

Stef Smith shoots a jumper during St. John’s loss to Creighton on Wednesday.
Corey Sipkin

Julian Champagnie, the reigning Big East Player of the Week, shot 3-for-16 from the field and passed off a chance in the post on the Mathis shot. Wheeler, so good in Big East play, was 1-for-10. St. John’s two best offensive players on this night were Stef Smith and O’Mar Stanley, who combined for 27 points, but spent the majority of the final minutes on the bench.

A 13-5 Creighton run gave the Bluejays (19-8, 11-5) a four-point lead with 4:51 left, and St. John’s appeared tight. Its shots weren’t falling and its defense was lagging. But then, Esahia Nyiwe hit a left-wing transition 3-pointer following a Dylan Addae-Wusu steal and Mathis scored inside on the heels of a Posh Alexander steal to get the Johnnies the lead back with 3:16 to go. Creighton answered with four straight points, however, to go ahead for good.

Trey Alexander of the Creighton down a rebound against Esahia Nyiwe of St. John’s.
Corey Sipkin

With 12:25 left in regulation, Creighton lost Nembhard. Going for a steal at midcourt, the freshman collided with Alexander and immediately grabbed his right arm near his wrist. A replay seemed to capture him saying to the Creighton bench, “it’s broken.” He stayed down for a few minutes and came out, receiving applause from the Carnesecca Arena crowd. He did not return.

St. John’s didn’t start the way it wanted. The Red Storm were down 10 less than seven minutes in and Creighton was punishing them in the paint. The game began to turn midway through the second half when Anderson went to a small lineup, with Stanley as his big man. It really changed when Anderson went to a true small-ball lineup, using Wheeler and Champagnie as his bigs.

Aaron Wheeler drives the ball during St. John’s loss to Creighton.
Corey Sipkin

With that group, St. John’s outscored Creighton by 11 over the final 5:47 of the half, turning a four-point deficit into a seven-point lead. The Bluejays couldn’t match the Red Storm’s quickness and committed 10 turnovers that led to 16 points. It wasn’t the usual suspects in the first 20 minutes, though. Mathis (13 points) and Smith (seven) combined for 20 first half points, with Smith registering a plus-16 rating in 12 minutes.

It said something about this team’s newfound scoring depth that it was able to outplay a quality opponent despite just eight points on 3-for-13 shooting from Wheeler and Champagnie. Alexander was active, scoring 10 points and adding four rebounds.

Starting center Joel Soriano missed the game due to a left knee contusion. According to a source, he suffered the injury in practice on Tuesday. It isn’t believed to be serious.

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