Top-ranked St. John's seems to find new sources of strength every game, and today it was Willie Glass' turn to take charge of a rather easy 88-83 victory over Syracuse in the Carrier Dome.
St. John's, clinching at least a tie for the Big East Conference regular-season championship, played so well for so long that never had such a large crowd (32,485, only 35 under the Dome record) been so quiet. "When it gets quiet like that," Glass said, "it makes you feel good."
So, St. John's (24-1, 14-0 in the conference) will take those good feelings, a 19-game winning streak and its No. 1 ranking into Wednesday night's game against second-ranked Georgetown at Madison Square Garden.
Glass, who is 6 feet 5, scored a career-high 22 points. But that was not the only reason St. John's Coach Lou Carnesecca said his sophomore forward "played marvelously," and the losing coach, Jim Boeheim, said, "Willie Glass flat-out beat us. That and our bad offense."
Glass had a big hand in making Syracuse's offense bad. He blocked two early shots by Rafael Addison, the Orangemen's leading scorer. That seemed to set the tone for the game as Syracuse dropped to 19-6, 8-6.
Addison scored 21 points on eight-for-11 shooting in the last St. John's game and averaged 26 points when Syracuse beat St. John's twice last season. He scored 14 points today, but missed 12 of 17 shots, including nine of 11 in the first half when his misses were a major factor in St. John's holding a 41-30 lead.
"If you block a good shooter a couple of times, he'll start thinking," Glass said. "Then he'll force it and come out of his game."
Addison said, "I was rushing the shot a little bit. We didn't shoot well (40 percent for the first half, 45 percent for the game). We struggled with our offense."
That forced Syracuse to gamble defensively, and Boeheim's strategy was to trap Chris Mullin (23 points) with a full-court press and hope that Glass wouldn't beat the Orangemen. But Glass lived up to the nickname on the "Mr. Glass" gold chain hanging from his neck, taking the ball to the glass and scoring 14 points in the second-half.
"We played well; we played smart for 38 minutes (it was 83-68 with 1:38 to play)," Carnesecca said. "I'm not going to let the last two minutes upset me."
He shouldn't. Of 33 St. John's baskets today, 30 were scored from inside 10 feet, including 24 layups or dunks. That might explain why the Redmen shot 60 percent for the game and 77 percent in the second half (17 for 22).
"We helped them a lot," Addison said. "We didn't play well. We never made the big defensive play."
For one of the few times in his career here, Dwayne (Pearl) Washington, Syracuse's flashy point guard, did not play well in a big game, even though he scored 20 points and had seven assists. He declined interviews after the game, after Mike Moses and Ron Jackson played defense on him "as good as you can," according to Carnesecca.
Boeheim said, "Pearl dribbled into crowds and then he got a little hesitant. He had a good statistical game, but he didn't play a good game . . . He didn't make good choices."
The worst choice of all came early in the second half when Syracuse had closed to 48-41, and Washington was leading one of Syracuse's few fast breaks of the game. Driving into the lane with one defender in front of him and teammate Wendell Alexis open on the wing, Washington bounced a pass backward that went right to Ron Stewart, one of three trailing Redmen.
When Mullin converted the mistake into a breakaway dunk, St. John's led by nine points, instead of a potential five. "It looked like we would get a layup, and they scored a layup on us," Boeheim said. "That bounce-back pass was terrible."
Jackson, who split playing time with Moses, was responsible for six official turnovers committed by Washington. "With us," Jackson said, "it comes down to what we can do and how we play. We have guys coming off the bench, and we did the job. It's not a one-man thing to stop Pearl. When he got the ball, everyone helped out."
But this game belonged to Glass from the first possession, when he penetrated the lane on freshman Michael Brown and made a difficult eight-foot jumper, "a shot he'll make once in a season," according to Boeheim.
On St. John's next possession, Glass got an offensive rebound and put it back up. He got another offensive rebound basket on Brown a few minutes later to make it 14-12. This was a mismatch for Brown, a freshman with point-guard instincts trying to block out Glass.
It was 14-14 when Mullin's 20-footer put the Redmen ahead to stay, 16-14. Two possessions later, Glass stripped freshman center Ron Seikaly of a rebound and dunked to make it 18-14. When Boeheim argued too strenuously that Seikaly had been fouled, referee Dick Paparo called the first of two technicals on him. Mullin made the free throws for a 20-14 lead.
When Stewart made a three-point play, it was 31-22. By halftime, it was 41-30, an amazing margin considering that St. John's had 14 turnovers and Walter Berry (16 points, six rebounds) had only two points and two rebounds at that point.
But Berry started the second half with a dunk and, when the Redmen weren't getting easy points after beating Syracuse's press, he was making nifty inside moves for dunks and layups.
After Washington's key turnover at 48-41, the St. John's players were confident, even if Carnesecca said, "They press you up here, and 13 points isn't enough . . . This Syracuse team has Final Four potential. They have power, speed, experience and talent."
Then somebody asked Carnesecca about the Georgetown game.
"Why did you have to bring that up?" he said. "I was going to think about them Monday. No, I'll think about it tomorrow. How about 4 o'clock this morning? I was watching their films."