Johnnies Win Holiday Festival; K-State Duo Suspended
After dropping back-to-back games to Atlantic 10 bottom feeders St. Bonaventure and Fordham, St. John’s and coach Steve Lavin finally have reason to smile.
The Johnnies won their second in-season tournament with an 85-69 victory over previously-unbeaten Northwestern in the championship game of the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
Dwight Hardy scored 24 points and Justin Brownlee added a career-high 21 and was named Most Outstanding Player as St. John’s shot 80 percent from the field in the second half to hand the Wildcats their first loss of the season.
“It is rare to shoot 80 percent in a half so I think our players executed well in two gears, in transition when the opportunity was there and then probing for good looks,” Lavin said. “It was all an indication of sharing the ball. I thought we were crisp, in sync, playing with a high confidence level and our defense picked up in the second half. You put it together and we had a breakthrough. If you keep working there’ll be a breakthrough.”
The Red Storm came into the Festival off losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, games where they blew double-digit leads. If the opening 62-57 win over Davidson and the championship didn’t erase those losses, they at least put the Johnnies back on the winning track.
“Sometimes we just have breakdowns here and there and today we had fewer breakdowns and we came up with the win,” Brownlee said.
John Shurna had 28 points and Drew Crawford added 17 for the Wildcats (8-1), who were trying to match their best start since 1993-94.
The Red Storm, whose last of 15 Festival titles came in 2005, won their second in-season tournament. Brownlee had his then-career-high of 20 points in the championship game win over Arizona State at the Great Alaska Shootout. It is the first time St. John’s has won two in-season tournaments since Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca led the then-Redmen to wins in the Lapchick Memorial and the Cougar Classic. Brownlee was named MVP of both of the tournaments.
K-STATE DUO SUSPENDED
Preseason All-America guard Jacob Pullen, who had made 82 consecutive starts for No. 11 Kansas State, was suspended by the NCAA for three games just before the Wildcats’ game against UNLV on Tuesday night.
The school said Pullen and senior forward Curtis Kelly, a former Rice High School star, were being punished for receiving impermissible benefits in connection with the purchase of clothing at a local department store.
It said the length of Kelly’s suspension had not been determined by the NCAA’s student-athlete reinstatement staff.
The loss of the players hurt right away. Tre’Von Willis scored 16 points and Oscar Bellfield hit a key three-pointer in the final 70 seconds, leading UNLV to a 63-59 upset victory at Kansas City, Mo. The Wildcats (9-3) had trouble adjusting to the absence of their senior leaders and top two scorers.
Pullen is averaging 16.5 points and 3.8 assists and is the first Kansas State player selected to the preseason All-America team. Kelly is averaging 10.3 points and four rebounds.
(AP, St. John’s athletics contributed)
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.