QUEENS, N.Y. – Phil Greene scored 16 points, including two key 3-pointers in the second half, to help St. John’s rally past Bucknell 67-63 on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena. Cameron Ayers scored a career-high 25 points for the Bison, who led by as many as nine points in the second half, but the Red Storm used a late 11-0 to pull out a close victory in the first meeting between the two teams since 1912.
Brian Fitzpatrick scored 12 points, Dom Hoffman logged 10 points and eight rebounds, and Steven Kaspar had six points, six rebounds and six assists for the Bison, who are now 2-2 on the season, with both losses coming by four points on the road against teams from the Pac-12 (Stanford) and Big East (St. John’s).
D’Angelo Harrison, who came in averaging a Big East-best 26.0 points per game, was held to 12 on 3-for-13 shooting, with Ryan Frazier drawing the primary defensive assignment. JaKarr Sampson added 11 points and six rebounds, and St. John’s received a big effort off the bench from Chris Obekpa with six points, six rebounds (five offensive) and seven blocked shots.
Rim protection was a big key to victory for the Red Storm, who led the nation in blocked shots last year. St. John’s blocked 13 in this one, as Bucknell often got to the basket only to be denied by Obekpa or Orlando Sanchez (four blocks). The Bison shot 46.4 percent for the game, but 13 of their 30 misses came on St. John’s blocked shots.
Bucknell led by as many as eight points in the first half and by three (35-32) at intermission, but the Bison stretched that margin up to nine with a 6-0 run to start the second half. They went nearly four minutes without a field goal, however, after Fitzpatrick’s layup had given them a 43-34 lead.
Greene hit a 3-pointer – only the Red Storm’s second of the night and fourth of the season – to pull them within two, and then after a timeout he drained another one to give St. John’s their first lead of the night at 46-45 with 12:03 to play.
Two free throws by Ayers and a Fitzpatrick bucket in the paint gave Bucknell a 51-48 lead, but those would be their last points for almost six minutes. In the interim, St. John’s ran off 11 straight points, keyed by a Harrison 3-pointer and a long two by Sampson at the end of the shot clock. Sampson’s shot put the Red Storm up 59-51 with 5:02 left.
Ayers ended Bucknell’s 5:59 scoring drought with a right-wing 3-pointer, but the Bison came up empty on four possessions with a chance to cut into the five-point deficit. Chris Obekpa’s tip-in with 1:20 left put St. John’s up 61-54 with 1:20 left, then Chris Hass answered with a 3-pointer with 1:02 to play.
At that point, the Bison had committed only one team foul in the half. They fouled six times in five seconds to get St. John’s into the bonus, but Harrison responded by hitting both ends of the 1-and-1 with 0:57 left. The Red Storm would make 6 of 8 from the line in the final minute to ice the game.
“We are disappointed to let that one get away,” said head coach Dave Paulsen afterward. “Give a lot of credit to St. John’s. They didn’t panic and made big shots and free throws when they needed them. The way they defended in the second half made it very hard to get a good clean look. We missed some shots and then lost our poise a little bit, but we will come away from this a better team after playing against their length and athleticism.”
Harrison scored on the very first possession of the night, but Ayers hit a late-shot-clock 3-pointer at the other end, and the Bison never again trailed in the half.
Fitzpatrick’s finish in the post gave them an early 11-4 lead and forced a Steve Lavin timeout. St. John’s came back to tie it at 15 and 17, but Bucknell surged back ahead with a 7-0 run. Hoffman tipped in a Kaspar miss, Ayers came up with a steal and then swished a pull-up 3-pointer, and Kaspar finished the run with a driving scoop shot.
The Red Storm scored six straight points, but Bucknell shot back with another 7-0 run to take its largest lead of eight points at 31-23 with 4:04 left in the half. Kaspar had a hand in all three of those points. He assisted on a Fitzpatrick layup and a Ben Brackney 3-pointer, and then Kaspar scored himself on another drive to the hoop.
St. John’s outscored the Bison 9-4 over the final 3:48 of the half to pull within 35-32. In the final minute of the half, Brackney had a 3-pointer from deep in the left corner spin halfway down and back out, but instead of hanging his head he sprinted back 90 feet to the other end to break up a fastbreak alley-oop attempt.
Bucknell finished with a 35-32 rebounding edge, which led to a 12-9 margin in second-chance points. The Bison also won the points in the paint 34-24, as they dared St. John’s to shoot from long range. The Red Storm came into the game 2-for-20 from 3-point range. They were 4-for-15 in this one but also hit a number of shots in the 15-20-foot range.
Ayers made 9 of 15 shots from the floor, 3 of 5 from 3-point range and 4 of 4 from the free-throw line en route to his career-high 25 points. He entered the game nine for his last 10 from the arc, and he drained his first two against St. John’s to stretch that streak to 11-for-12. His previous career high was 23 points against Richmond and George Mason in 2011-12.Bucknell returns to the state of New York on Saturday to take on Albany at 7 p.m.