Coach Lou Carnesecca wore a new sweater today, a ski slope variety that he called apropos for this part of the country. But his team's play was vintage St. John's in an 83-59 victory against Southern in the first round of the NCAA West Regional basketball tournament.
Away from the rat race of New York City, out of the shadow of top-ranked Georgetown, St. John's played its first strong defense in three weeks, advancing to a second-round game Saturday against Arkansas.
The Razorbacks (22-12), who now have solid offense to complement their always stifling defense, rallied in the second half to defeat Iowa, 63-54, as center Joe Kleine had 25 points and 14 rebounds.
The opening game of the evening portion of the doubleheader at the Special Events Center resembled a JuCo postgraduate seminar, with Nevada-Las Vegas beating San Diego State, 85-80, on Anthony Jones' 18 points. The Rebels, at No. 4 the highest seeded western team in the tournament, will play Kentucky in Saturday's second round. Kentucky beat Washington, 66-58, tonight.
Kentucky's Kenny Walker scored 29 points and the Wildcats made 17 of 20 free throws down the stretch against Pac-10 cochampion Washington, ending Marv Harshman's coaching career after 40 seasons and 642 victories, the highest among active college coaches.
It was not so much that St. John's held Southern, one of the nation's best shooting teams, to 18 points and 26.7 percent field-goal accuracy in the first half, but the way it was done.
"We did well, especially in light of the last debacle we had," Carnesecca said, referring to the 92-80 loss to Georgetown for the Big East tournament championship.
Today, with center Bill Wennington (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists), forward Walter Berry (24 points, 13 rebounds) and guard Chris Mullin (21 points, six assists) accounting for 26 of St. John's 30 baskets, Carnesecca singled out Willie Glass' defense as the key.
Glass, who has shot only 148 times in 31 games, covered John Staves, a 65 percent shooter and one of the Jaguars' key offensive players, like the snow still covering the slopes at nearby Snowbird.
Staves, whose active inside play usually creates openings for his teammates, never got into this game offensively and played only 13 minutes before fouling out. He missed his only two shots.
"That was the key," said Carnesecca, whose team (28-3) had lost twice to Georgetown in 11 days and needed a tuneup like this.
Not only was the St. John's defense strong, but its offense was patient, resulting in 59 percent field-goal accuracy, and the Redmen rebounded well, as they should against a team whose tallest starter is 6 feet 7.
"We dissected them, like surgeons," Carnesecca said.
This was most evident when Southern, its shooters finally starting to score, cut the gap to 61-52 with less than nine minutes to play. But the Redmen scored two textbook baskets. "If we didn't do the right things offensively," Mullin said, "they were capable of giving us a hard time."
Indeed, Southern Coach Bob Hopkins hardly was displeased by the play of his team (19-11). "We played hard, and everybody played up to his level except Staves. He was taken out of the game completely," Hopkins said.
Southern had closed to 61-52 when guard Glenn Dedmon (12 points) stole an inbounds pass by Mullin and scored a layup. But, after an offensive rebound by Glass, Mullin hit an open 20-foot jumper. Then Staves, so frustrated by that point, took a wild shot the second he got his hands on the ball. Berry turned the ensuing fast break into a dunk and it was 65-52.
"We took quick shots, because we wanted to catch up too quickly," Hopkins said. "It's like McDonald's or Burger King. Everybody wants something right away."
From 66-56, Southern, a tired team, three of whose starters played 39 minutes of a fast-paced, physical game, went more than six minutes without scoring. The Jaguars also were tired at the end of the first half, failing to score for the final 4:46, as St. John's expanded an eight-point lead to 34-18.
To a man, St. John's was relieved to be away from home, to be in the same regional that has vaulted North Carolina State and Georgetown to the national championship, far from the madding crowds. That's why Carnesecca wore a ski sweater. ("When you're in Rome, do like the Romans do," he said.)
He was glad to be here. "In New York, you couldn't turn around, and there was somebody in your pocket," Carnesecca said. "Not taking away, giving . . . . We got away from that. It's a wonderful place here."
St. John's was tentative for the first 10 minutes. "We were coasting along instead of being aggressive," Mullin said. At that stage, the Redmen were leading, 15-12, and Mullin, one of the nation's best foul shooters, had missed three in a row. Then St. John's got going.
"That Big East tournament takes a little out of you," Carnesecca said. "We weren't as alive as we could have been." But the opponent was Southern, not a team that had a realistic chance of beating the Redmen, like Arkansas. As Wennington said, "Playing a game anywhere, against anyone, gets you tuned up for the next one."
That game figures to be quite a physical contest. After watching Kleine lead the Razorbacks' comeback with aggressive inside play, Carnesecca said, "Did you ever see a game like that? An NBA game is not as aggressive as this game. Kleine took on the whole Iowa team. Kleine took on the whole area. He was like King Kong. Guys were bouncing off of him."
Iowa led by 10 points in the first half and by seven at halftime. But the Hawkeyes (21-11), outrebounded by 26-17 in the second half, never got many second shots and made only 31 percent of their shots in the second half.
Kleine had 15 points and 12 rebounds in the second half.
Todd Berkenpas had 16 points for Iowa, which had beaten Arkansas by 19 points in the Rainbow Classic in December. At that time, Arkansas (22-12) was playing good defense, but shooting in the low 30-percent range against good teams.
"The heart and soul of their team is defense and Joe Kleine," said Iowa Coach George Raveling. "Did I think very much about Joe Kleine before the game? Only me and my laundry man would know how nervous I was."
That statement wasn't gramatically correct, but it was valid. "We got careless in our ballhandling and today we lacked patience considering we were playing without the shot clock," Raveling said.