- Associated Press - Saturday, January 3, 2015

NEW YORK (AP) - A few days ago, St. John’s was riding high heading into conference play. With an experienced team off to the program’s best start in nearly three decades, the 15th-ranked Red Storm appeared capable of living up to some lofty aspirations.

Now, they need to find a way to scratch out Big East wins with a squad that goes about five deep. And by the looks of it, that’s not going to be easy.

Kellen Dunham scored a season-high 28 points, including a pivotal 3-pointer with just more than 2 minutes left that helped Butler hold off short-handed St. John’s 73-69 on Saturday.

D’Angelo Harrison matched his season high with 31 points for the Red Storm (11-3, 0-2), who played their first game since second-leading scorer Rysheed Jordan left the team to deal with “personal and family matters” back home in Philadelphia.

“When you’re going five guys, it’s difficult,” coach Steve Lavin said, adding that Jordan won’t play Tuesday night against Villanova. “It’s tough when you had a run with a certain rotation. It’s going to affect the flow and rhythm of the team.”

In a game between two of the league’s top defensive teams, St. John’s struggled to find a consistent secondary scorer to complement Harrison. Phil Greene IV had 14 points and Chris Obekpa scored 11 with five blocked shots.

Sir’Dominic Pointer was 4 of 13 from the field. Neither team got a point from its bench, and all five Red Storm starters played at least 34 minutes.

“It’s tough, of course, but our job is to compete every day,” Harrison said. “We have to play with the group we have now.”

St. John’s also was without lightly used backup guard Felix Balamou. He sat out with a sprained right ankle after getting hurt in practice, further diminishing a team already short on depth.

So it’s been a disappointing start to league play for the Red Storm, who won seven straight before a 78-67 loss Wednesday at Seton Hall. They opened 11-1 this season for the first time since 1985-86.

“Thought our kids competed. Competed well, fought hard under tough circumstances,” Lavin said. “The last two games the 3-point defense wasn’t where it needs to be.”

Alex Barlow added 15 points and Roosevelt Jones had 14 to help the Bulldogs (11-4, 1-1) split their tough road trip to begin conference play. Dunham, the team’s top scorer, was held to 10 points Wednesday in a loss at No. 6 Villanova.

The victory came one day after Butler removed the interim tag from Chris Holtmann’s title, making him the program’s new head coach.

“Jordan being out impacted the game,” Holtmann said.

With the Bulldogs clinging to a two-point lead, Dunham pump-faked a defender to get free near the top of the key and drained a 3 that made it 64-59 with 2:05 remaining. Butler hit nine of 10 free throws the rest of the way to seal it.

“The way that St. John’s guarded, I was able to find some openings in their zone,” said Dunham, who was 6 of 7 from behind the arc.

The Red Storm surged in front with a 15-4 run late in the first half keyed by nine points from Harrison, including a long 3 that barely beat the shot clock.

Barlow’s high, running floater trimmed Butler’s deficit to 30-26 at halftime, and the Bulldogs took charge with a 20-9 run to begin the second half.

___

TIP-INS

Butler: It was Butler’s first game at Carnesecca Arena on the St. John’s campus. … The Bulldogs lost both meetings by an average of 21 points last season, their first in the reconfigured Big East. … Butler outrebounded St. John’s 34-26.

St. John’s: Jordan is taking an indefinite leave of absence from the team, St. John’s announced Friday. The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard, a highly touted recruit, ranked sixth in the Big East in scoring (14 points per game) and fourth in steals (2.1 per game). A preseason All-Big East second team selection, Jordan started the first five games of the season before committing nine turnovers in a loss to then-No. 10 Gonzaga. He had been coming off the bench since, but was averaging 29 minutes per game. He also missed a Dec. 22 win over Long Beach State with what the school said was the flu.

STRANGE FEELING

St. John’s dropped to 7-1 at Carnesecca Arena, and 22-4 over the last three seasons.

UP NEXT

Butler: Hosts Providence on Tuesday night.

St. John’s: Hosts No. 6 Villanova at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night. The Wildcats (13-1, 1-1) are coming off a 66-61 overtime loss at Seton Hall on Saturday. Their 13-game winning streak to start the season matched a school record. St. John’s leads the all-time series 60-49.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide