On New Year’s Eve, the ball appropriately kept dropping for Seton Hall.
Which meant St. John’s heart was dropping, too.
Seton Hall got hot and stayed hot, first using its shooting to hang in the game and then seize it. The Pirates erased a 10-point Red Storm first-half lead and rolled to an 88-66 win at the Prudential Center in Newark. While others celebrated and partied Saturday, it became a bit harder to envision the Johnnies going dancing in March.
In a face-off of the skidding rivals, there was more hope evident from the Pirates’ side. Seton Hall (8-7, 1-3 Big East) snapped a three-game losing streak, while St. John’s (11-4, 1-3 Big East) pushed its funk to three games. The Pirates finally found their first conference victory, while St. John’s still is searching for its first true road win.
Seton Hall, which looked as if it might be on the wrong end of a blowout early, connected for seven 3s, five by Al-Amir Dawes. The Newark-native transfer poured in 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting and looked like the best player on the court as Seton Hall ran its offense through him. In all, Seton Hall shot 54.1 percent from the field.
The Pirates turned his sharp shooting into a five-point halftime lead, then went on a 19-7 run to start the second half, building a lead that eventually would stretch to 25.
St. John’s, which padded its record through a weak non-conference schedule, has dropped games to Villanova, Xavier and Seton Hall consecutively. Joel Soriano continued to take a leap in his senior season and dumped in 23 points with 11 rebounds, but the Red Storm could not get to the foul line, could not find a second consistent scorer and struggled from deep.
St. John’s finished just 4-of-18 from beyond the arc, which burned Mike Anderson’s team as it struggled to climb out of a deep second-half ditch.
St. John’s, which is just 1-11 all time at Prudential Center, has only won in “away” games in neutral-site games against Temple, Syracuse and Florida State.
Early on, their fortunates appeared to be changing. In a curious move, St. John’s shook up its starting lineup by sitting its assists leader, guard Andre Curbelo, and forward Jones. Dylan Addae-Wusu and O’Mar Stanley entered a bigger starting five than usual.
The tweaks appeared to work when St. John’s built a 10-point lead, but the glimpses of excellence would not be sustained.
Sitting Curbelo and Jones meant St. John’s first two subs were two of the best players in the game. Curbelo made an immediate impact once he entered, with a couple quick assists and a dive on a loose ball that sprung a St. John’s fast break to cap a 9-0 run. Behind Curbelo’s energy, Soriano’s dominance under the basket and smooth penetrating by Jones, St. John’s built a 23-13 edge at 9:43 of the first half.
But Seton Hall grabbed its chisels and began chipping away at the foul line and at the 3-point arc. The Pirates turned 10 St. John’s first-half fouls into six points from the charity stripe. Seton Hall committed just five fouls in the first half.
Dawes’ fourth 3 of the first half allowed Seton Hall to come all the way back, giving the Pirates a 33-31 lead just before the break. Kadary Richmond added another triple at the buzzer to give Seton Hall a surprising five-point lead at the half — a half in which they went 6-for-14 from deep.
The rout was only beginning.