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St. John’s loses close one to Connecticut

Leading by seven with just over seven minutes to play, the St. John’s men’s basketball team could not hold off Connecticut, as the No. 24 Huskies rallied for a 63-60 win at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Following a Stef Smith 3-pointer to cap an 11-0 run and put the Red Storm up seven, 55-48, with 7:46 to go, St. John’s went without a point for the next 5:39, allowing UConn (17-7, 8-5 Big East) to rattle off 11 unanswered of its own.

Coach Mike Anderson said his team is having trouble finishing.

“That’s a mystery to me, it’s something we work on every single day,” he said. “We’re getting the opportunities, we’re just not finishing.”

The Johnnies (13-11, 5-8) narrowed their deficit to one following an Aaron Wheeler 3-pointer with 15 seconds to go, but two R.J. Cole free throws quickly made it a three-point game in favor of Connecticut. The Huskies elected not to foul up three on the final possession, but the Red Storm could not get off a clean look at the game-tying shot.

Montez Mathis scored a team-high 14 points on 5-of-6 shooting for the Red Storm. The senior guard also went 4-for-5 from the charity stripe.

“I thought he played aggressively,” said Anderson of Mathis. “You could see it even on the first play. In order to win in the Big East, you have to have that kind of grit. In the second half, he was a big part of that run we made.”

Mathis led four Johnnies in double figures. The top scorer in the Big East, Julian Champagnie tallied his fourth double-double of the year, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Wheeler also finished with 13 points while Dylan Addae-Wusu stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.

St. John’s played its second consecutive game without the services of Posh Alexander, the team’s leader in assists and a top-10 scorer in the league.

“As a player, it’s frustrating,” said Champagnie. “We go out every night and give it our all. If a game is decided by one or two possessions or a free throw, it’s frustrating.”

The Red Storm were scheduled to return to action on Wednesday, traveling to Cincinnati for a 6:30 p.m. contest with No. 25 Xavier.

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