Every time the question of making the NCAA Tournament came up in recent weeks, Fran Fraschilla reserved comment about St. John's chances. Not anymore.
After St. John's won for the 10th time in 11 games on Sunday by beating undermanned Seton Hall 64-60, Fraschilla didn't hesitate to say the Red Storm (19-7, 11-4 Big East) belongs in the show for the first time since the 1992-93 season.
"I think we do, but I am not going to tell my team that," Fraschilla said. "I think we are a tournament team, but I'm not going to tell the team that. Hopefully, they won't read the papers the next couple of weeks."
The 19 wins are the most for the Red Storm since the 1992-93 season when the team was 19-11 and made the NCAA Tournament in Brian Mahoney's first season as coach.
"Based on what we have done, to win 10 of 11 in this conference and to be 6-1 on the road, and the league is third ranked in the RPI now, is a heck of an achievement," said Fraschilla, adding he hopes the Red Storm maintains its underdog image by staying out of the Top 25.
St. John's got great efforts from its three seniors down the stretch. Felipe Lopez hit three 3-pointers in a late 18-7 spurt. Tarik Turner also had a 3-pointer in the run and made two key off-balance baskets in the final 2:13, while Zendon Hamilton scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half.
"St. John's is a very good team, probably one of the hottest teams in the country," Seton Hall coach Tommy Amaker said. "They know how to win and their seniors have really carried the team to this point. You could see their leadership when they made big plays, be it hitting a shot or grabbing a rebound."
Junior Tyrone Grant also contributed, scoring his only points on two free throws with 21.8 seconds to play to hand Seton Hall (12-12, 6-8) its second straight close loss at home.
Levell Sanders led the Pirates with 21 points and Shaheen Holloway had 17, 15 in the second half. Jacky Kaba had a game-high 13 rebounds for Seton Hall, which played without starting forward Donnell Williams (13.3 points), who missed the game because of bronchitis.
Even without him, Seton Hall nearly found a way to win the ugly game that featured a combined 67 missed shots from the field and 36 turnovers.
"When you are missing a player like Donnell it's tough," Holloway said. "He is a big body out there and he can score."
An 11-2 spurt that featured points by five players gave Seton Hall a 43-38 lead with 10:44 to play.
After a basket by freshman Ron Artest and two free throws by Hamilton cut the lead to a point, Lopez put St. John's ahead 45-43 with a 3-pointer with 7:55 to play.
Sanders, who led Seton Hall with 21 points, scored the next five points on a long 3-pointer and two free throws to give the Pirates a 48-45 lead with 6:45 to play.
Turner then hit a 3-pointer to tie the game and Lopez hit another after a Seton Hall turnover to put the Red Storm aead for good at 51-48. St. John's built its lead to 60-52 with 1:34 to go on a basket by Artest, a 3-pointer by Lopez and two off balance baskets by Turner, who scored seven of his eight points in the final 6:27.
"You can credit this one directly to the seniors," Fraschilla said. "Tarik, Zendon and Felipe just would not let us lose."
Seton Hall got to within three points on a 3-pointer by Holloway with 21.8 seconds to play but Grant made his free throws to put the game out of reach.
"To their credit, I thought they played more desperate than we did," Fraschilla said of Seton Hall. "I thought they did, but we found a way to win and make some big plays."
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