NEW YORK — Let’s face it. This isn’t exactly a Golden Age for New York-area college basketball. Rutgers and Seton Hall are now a combined 6-24 in the Big East after both programs lost again on Saturday. Rutgers has dropped nine of 10, while Seton Hall has lost nine in a row. St. John’s, meantime, had a chance for a much-needed résumé win when it hosted No. 20 Pittsburgh Sunday at Madison Square Garden. But after briefly taking a second-half lead, the Johnnies appeared to lose their passion and will to win and fell, 63-47, before a crowd of 9,129. “We let this opportunity slip away,” said Johnnies coach Steve Lavin, whose club dropped to 16-11, 8-7 in the Big East. “We squandered this opportunity here in the Garden against a good Pittsburgh team, and I think there’s some things we’ll take away from this game that can help us moving down the line.” Former St. Anthony standout Tray Woodall came up with a huge game for the Panthers, going for a game-high 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists and 0 turnovers. He entered averaging 10.9 points per game St. John’s star, D’Angelo Harrison, struggled in going 1-of-12 for six points. JaKarr Sampson, the likely Big East Rookie of the Year, finished with 14 points, and Phil Greene IV had 11. St. John’s has three games remaining, beginning with Saturday’s game at red-hot Providence. The Friars have won five of six, including this past Saturday night’s 76-72 win at Rutgers. After that the Johnnies get two more cracks at ranked teams when they visit No. 25 Notre Dame March 5 and then close out the season against No. 17 Marquette March 9 at MSG. Jerry Palm of CBSSports.com told SNY.tv the Johnnies need to win both games against the ranked teams “at least” to make the NCAA Tournament. The Johnnies have some quality wins at Cincinnati, against Notre Dame and against UConn, but they also have bad losses to Murray State, at San Francisco and to UNC-Asheville. “It’s clear that we have some work to do,” Lavin said. “While there’s some positives in terms of our three quality wins over Connecticut and Notre Dame and Cincinnati and our Strength of Schedule (28), but we need to get some wins both in the regular season and in the conference tournament if we’re going to build a case or have an argument for us being in the NCAA Tournament.” Still, the Johnnies can’t look back now. They have what now shapes up as a huge game with Providence on Saturday before facing two ranked teams. “Right now, our now next game is Providence,” sophomore Amir Garrett said.
“That’s what we’re getting ready for. We’re not worried too far about the other two games. We got Providence next and our full focus is on them right now.” LAVIN DOESN’T REGRET RED-SHIRTING GIFT Given everything that’s happened with the Orlando Sanchez situation, I asked Lavin if he regretted red-shirting forward God’sgift Achiuwa at all. After all, without both Sanchez and Achiuwa this year, the Johnnies were left without some bulk in the middle. “No, not really because the development of this group is going to be advanced,” Lavin said. “And I’m not sure minutes and playing time and how we would’ve distributed things because [Chris] Obekpas’s development is so critical, and JaKarr [Sampson] and Amir and Dom [Pointer]. So I think with this group developing this young team was kind of the goal. “Obviously, we want to go to the Tournament, too. There’s kind of two objectives there. It’s developing this team to try and win enough games this year to go to the Tournament and have some success in the Tournament., but also next year when the majority come back, if not all of them. I think the challenge if we had played Gift, was I don’t think this team’s development would be as far along both now and next year.” Lavin said the goal is still to bring Gift back next season, when the Johnnies will be a year more experienced and perhaps ready for a deep NCAA run. “Yes,” Lavin said. Follow Adam Zagoria on Twitter And like ZAGS on Facebook