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Red Storm Hits No. 15 West Virginia

It was a rough first three seasons for the senior class at St. John's. They did get to enjoy their last game on campus.

The Red Storm beat No. 15 West Virginia 77-69 Saturday night in the last game at Alumni Hall for Felipe Lopez, Zendon Hamilton and Tarik Turner, arguably the most heralded recruiting class in school history.

The trio have yet to have a winning season, went through the firing of Brian Mahoney, the man who recruited them, and endured a lot more downs than ups in their careers.

"For myself it was an emotional night," said Lopez, who finished with 17 points. "I was thinking about so many things, about being criticized, about being booed, so many things."

The Red Storm (18-7, 10-4 Big East) can now start thinking about other things such as an NCAA tournament bid.

"I've never been there," said Hamilton, who struggled against West Virginia, finishing with five points on 1-for-4 shooting. "I just want to see what playing in the tournament feels like."

The win was the ninth in 10 games for St. John's, which has four regular-season games left, three on the road and one at its other home, Madison Square Garden.

It also snapped a five-game winning streak for West Virginia (19-4, 9-4).

"The only positive for us was the halftime lead," Mountaineers coach Gale Catlett said of the 38-31 advantage.

Lavor Postell also had 17 points for St. John's, while freshman Ron Artest had 15 points and 13 rebounds and Tyrone Grant added 12 points.

"We played very well in the second half and a lot of people stepped up for us," said St. John's coach Fran Fraschilla, who stood in front of his bench in the final minute encouraging the crowd to continue cheering. "I wanted it for the players, I wanted it for them (the fans). They have all been through some rough times."

West Virginia rallied from an eight-point deficit to get within 67-65 with 1:40 remaining on a rebound dunk by Marcus Goree. Postell answered with a thunderous dunk on an alley-oop pass from Lopez 10 seconds later. Postell made one of two free throws with a little over a minute remaining and Brian Lewin had the Mountaineers back within 70-67 with a tip-in with 50 seconds left.

The Red Storm then went 7-for-10 from the free throw line the rest of the game while all West Virginia could manage was a driving basket by Jarrod West with three seconds to play.

"We're not a great free throw shooting team but I'm glad we made them at crunch time," Fraschilla said.

West Virginia finished 15-of-28 from the foul line, including a 6-for-13 effort from leading scorer Damian Owens, who finished with 14 points.

"St. John's made free throws down the stretch when they needed it," Catlett said. "We were atrocious from the line, especially down the stretch. It's an old story, they make theirs, we don't make ours."

Greg Jones led the Mountaineers with 23 points, going 6-for-9 from 3-pont range. Jones was 3-for-4 on 3s and had 19 points to lead West Virginia to an 86-70 victory over St. John's in the teams' first meeting this season.

"Jones is unbelieveable," Fraschilla said. ``He caught us by surprise in December but not tonight. His lack of conscience, and I say that favorably, makes him remind me of Vinnie Johnson. You have to guard him at halfcourt."

Jones helped the Mountaineers to a 38-31 halftime lead by scoring 12 points in a 22-8 run to close the half.

St. John's took the lead for good at 58-56 on a drive by Ron Jessie with 6:01 left, a basket that started a 9-1 run that gave the Red Storm a 65-57 lead with 4:08 left.

"That play by Jessie was the turning point because I don't know if it relaxed us, but it got us the lead and then we made some big plays down the stretch," Fraschilla said.

Lopez moved into third place on the school's career scoring list with 1,833 points, behind only Chris Mullin (2,440) and Malik Sealy (2,401).

"We are turning people's heads and are starting to get some respect," Lopez said. "We are playing like the St. John's teams that used to be called Redmen."

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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