Oregon State had come across country to prove to basketball's Eastern establishment that it is the best college team in the nation.
The Beavers failed today.
The nationally second-ranked team whipped St. John's, 57-45, before 10,292 in Nassau Coliseum. But winning by 12 points is hardly impressive when done against a team that makes one field goal in almost 20 minutes, that goes scoreless for almost nine minutes at the start of the second half while missing 17 straight shots.
The one player on either team who had a day worth talking about was Steve Johnson, Oregon State's 6-foot-10 center. St. John's center Wayne McKoy made almost no attempt to stop Johnson from getting the ball near the basket. As a result, Johnson made 11 of 14 shots -- he is shooting 76 percent this season -- and had 26 points although he played only 18 minutes because of fouls.
"You can't guard Steve one on one," said State forward Lester Conner. "If you play behind him, he gets the ball, turns and never misses. If you play in front of him, we lob and he catches and dunks."
It was a good thing for the Beavers that Johnson, who almost never shoots from beyond five feet, got his shots. His teammates, tired from playing Thursday and flying across country Friday, missed most of theirs.
Excluding Johnson, Oregon State made 12 of 33 shots, 44 percent. It was only the second time this season the Beavers, shooting 57.8 percent, had been under 50 percent. St. John's made 34 percent.
"Our offense was pretty awful," Johnson said. "We wanted to come in here and play well but we didn't. I don't know why. Our defense saved us today. But when you hold a team scoreless for 10 minutes, you ought to be up by 20 or 30 points, blow them out."
That was the amazing thing about St. John's drought. When David Russell finally scored after rebounding the 17th straight miss, a jumper by Billy Goodwin (team-high 14 points) with 8:33 left, the Redmen trailed only 36-24.
"That's what I couldn't believe," St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said. "We're totally frozen and I look up and say, 'Holy mackerel, we're still in this thing if we can get going.'"
The Redmen never got going. Actually, neither club ever did. With the coliseum a third empty and what crowd there was quiet, the first half was a 27-19 sleepwalk. Oregon State, playing on national television for the first time, clearly was tight. Johnson's going to the bench with his second foul eight minutes into the game didn't help, either.
Nevertheless, the Beavers extended a 17-16 lead with 8:20 left in the half to the eight-point advantage at intermission as the St. John's drought began. t"I told them at half to just loosen up," Carnesecca said. "What an opportunity we had."
But even with Johnson returning to the bench after his fourth foul with 18:24 left, St. John's could do nothing. Oregon State wasn't much better, but it was 32-19 before Goodwin made a free throw with 11:13 to play.
"I've seen teams miss a lot of shots," Oregon State forward Ray Blume said. "But I don't think I've ever seen them miss that many in a row. Great defense, I guess."
Good defense, certainly. The Beavers are a well-disciplined team that passes well and takes good shots. But today, those shots wouldn't go in. So, they talked about their defense.
"We're a great passing club, we set Steve up well," said Coach Ralph Miller. "But when it gets tough for us, it's the defense that pulls us through at the end."
This time that wasn't necessary. With the lead 36-24, Johnson returned to action with 8:48 remaining and in 4 1/2 minutes scored his team's next 14 points for a 51-36 cushion.
"If people want to take this as an example of the way we play that's fine with me," Blume said. "Because if anyone puts together a scouting report on this team off this game, they're going to be in for a big surprise."