St. John’s exits Big East tourney with an embarrassing whimper

St. John’s has developed one consistent trend: Getting embarrassed in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

At least this year, the Red Storm’s season isn’t over, an NCAA Tournament bid likely awaiting them on Sunday despite this poor finish to the season. But this group performed exactly like less talented teams have the previous two years, following up outbracket-round wins with a no-show performance.

The two regular-season victories over No. 2 Marquette seemed like they were made up, the difference in the two teams Thursday night was so stark. The Golden Eagles and Big East Player of the Year Markus Howard toyed with the seventh-seeded Johnnies, getting any shot they wanted, defending the life out of them, and cruising to a cakewalk of an 86-54 quarterfinal victory at the Garden.

After being held in check by St. John’s wing Justin Simon in the first two meetings, Howard busted out, scoring 30 points, along with seven rebounds and four assists. Shamorie Ponds couldn’t match him, scoring just 13 points on 4-of-14 shooting. He wasn’t alone with his shooting struggles. The Johnnies shot 32 percent from the field, made 3-of-20 from beyond the arc, were outrebounded 46-30 and got a combined five points from starters Marvin Clark II and LJ Figeroa.

St. John’s (21-12) was fortunate to be down just 12 at halftime, after shooting just 33 percent from the field and trailing by as many as 14. The Johnnies had life early in the second half, down just six after back-to-back slams in transition. But after a timeout, Howard ignited a monster 20-2 run, turning the third meeting between these teams into a rout.

The run, turning a six-point Marquette lead that seemed tenuous at the time to a 24-point bulge, ended the evening with 9:54 remaining. Howard started it with a driving layup, then was fouled taking a 3-pointer — the second time St. John’s sent him to the line from beyond the arc — and hit all three free throws. He added two more driving layups and a deep 3-pointer, putting an early exclamation mark on the thorough victory.

Now St. John’s awaits its fate, hoping it did enough to dance for the first time in the Chris Mullin era. If the Red Storm are left out, an unlikely proposition, they have only themselves to blame. They lost four of their past five and five of seven, failing to win more than consecutive games in a row since the 12-0 start against a soft non-conference schedule.

After the win over DePaul, there was talk of regaining their swagger, adding another win over Marquette to the résumé. But everything that led to the win on Wednesday — energy and intensity, ball movement, defensive focus — was missing. The Golden Eagles were the far hungrier team, and St. John’s found itself on the business end of another lopsided quarterfinal result at its second home.

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