Playing without starters Justin Burrell and Anthony Mason Jr., the Red Storm were overmatched by the Virginia Tech Hokies, falling behind early and never rallying in a 81-67 thumping in the championship game of the Aeropostale Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden Sunday.
The loss snapped St. John's (9-2) seven game win streak and went a long way towards clarifying exactly how good this Red Storm team is.
St. John's lead briefly, taking a 28-25 lead on a 3-pointer by Quincy Roberts with 5:10 left in the first half, but Virgina Tech's zone defense was too much for the Red Storm to handle.
Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said that the Red Storm didn't expect his team to play 40 minutes of zone, and he was correct.
"I didn't think they'd stay in zone the whole game," said St. John's point guard Malik Boothe, who finished with six turnovers to four assists. "It just messed me up."
The Hokies also limited the effectiveness of Storm forward Shawn Evans. Evans, who had 19 points and 13 rebounds in the semifinal game against Marist, was limited by foul trouble and finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds.
Perhaps most alarming was St. John's inability to shoot the ball from downtown in the second half. St. John's was 5-for-13 from 3-point land in the first half, and only trailed the Hokies by four at halftime. However, the Red Storm were 0-for-8 in the second half, when the game was blown open.
"I thought we took good shots," head coach Norm Roberts said. "We just gotta make them."
The loss ends the non-conference portion of the Red Storm schedule, which saw St. John's dominate teams from the NEC, Ivy League, and MAAC but also saw the Storm get pushed around by bigger teams from the ACC.
With Big East play starting, the Red Storm were thankful for the bump in competition.
"I think it's beneficial to the team," Evans said. "We get to compete against a stronger team, and we get to learn from our mistakes."
Game notes: Columbia defeated Marist in the consolation game, 63-58. St. John's will return to Madison Square Garden on Saturday, December 27 to play Miami. Tip-off time is noon. Burrell, who suffered hairline facial fractures in a collision with Evans during practice last week, will be re-evaluated by doctors on tuesday.