Feb. 21, 2016
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NEW YORK - St. John's battled all the way back from a 19-point deficit and led by as many as three late in the second half before Seton Hall (19-7, 9-5) escaped with a 62-61 victory Sunday at Madison Square Garden. Sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead drained a pair of free-throws for the Pirates with five seconds remaining which proved to be the difference.
Kassoum Yakwe (Bamako, Mali) delivered a career performance before the 13,204 fans in attendance. The freshman forward scored 16 points and pulled down 15 rebounds leading St. John's (8-20, 1-14) with his second-straight double-double. Durand Johnson (Baltimore, Md.) and Felix Balamou (Conakry, Guinea) added nine points apiece for the Red Storm.
"In the second half we played really well. We started making some shots," said St. John's Head Coach Chris Mullin. "I was really proud of our team. In my mind, we played well enough to win.
"The most impressive thing to me was [the way they] came back, played together and kept that enthusiasm. That's what a team is all about."
Pirates sophomore Desi Rodriguez had 19 of his game-high 24 points before halftime to help Seton Hall open a 28-9 advantage 13 minutes into the contest. St. John's trimmed its deficit to 14-points at the break with Yakwe scoring four of the team's last six first half points.
"[Kassoum] had a great game today, but that's what he's been doing," said Mullin. "He works hard. We see improvement each and every day with his game. He's going to be a special player."
The Red Storm unleashed an 8-0 run to open the second half with Johnson burying a pair of 3s that energized the crowd. After Seton Hall scored seven-straight points to push the margin to 13 at the 14:57 mark, St. John's outscored the Pirates 22-9 over the next nine minutes to lock the game at 52-52.
Ron Mvouika (Paris, France) scored all six points in the second half, but got the Red Storm rolling with a block on Derrick Gordon which led to Balamou's posterizing two-handed slam that made it a seven-point game at the 9:59 mark. Minutes later, Federico Mussini (Reggio Emilia, Italy) nailed a corner 3-pointer and Mvouika drained another triple that cut the deficit to one, 50-49, to force a Seton Hall timeout.
Yakwe's 3-point play tied the game, 52-52, with 5:43 on the clock. Then Yankuba Sima (Girona, Spain) pushed the Red Storm out front for its first lead, 55-54, with a layup at the 3:45 mark.
Seton Hall tied the game for the fifth time at 60-60 after Whitehead made 1-of-2 free throws, but Johnson made 1-of-2 at the other end to put St. John's up one with ten seconds left. A loose ball foul sent Whitehead back to line for a pair of free throws that gave the Pirates a 62-61 lead with five seconds.
St. John's had a sideline in-bounds play with three seconds left, but could not get a shot off as time expired. The Red Storm shot 44.2 percent (23-of-52) from the floor, but made just 5-of-19 3-pointers (26.3 percent) and 10-of-24 free throws (41.7 percent).
The Pirates had four players finish in double-figures with Khadeen Carrington adding 12 points, while Whitehead and Gordon had 10 apiece. St. John's contained Whitehead holding the Pirates leading scorer without a bucket until the 13:30 mark in the second half. He finished 1-for-12 from the field and 0-for-5 from 3-point range, but sank 8-of-10 free-throws.
The Red Storm outrebounded Seton Hall, 41-36, with Mvouika contributing eight boards. Yakwe (4) and Sima (3), the top-shot blocking duo in the nation, combined for seven of the team's 10 blocks.
St. John's opens up a two-game road swing on Wednesday at DePaul (9 p.m., FS1).