By Daniel Popko
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Down 80-75 with less than a minute remaining, the men’s basketball team was unable to convert on a fast break off a steal, missing a jumper that Anthony Mason Jr. took the other way for an easy lay-up.
St. John’s made its free throws down the stretch and walked out of Boston College’s Conte Forum with an 86-75 victory in the first round of the Dick’s NIT Season Tip-Off. Mason Jr. finished the game with 24 points to lead the Red Storm while sophomore D.J. Kennedy contributed 16 of his 22 points in the first half.
The Red Storm nearly led from wire to wire as Mason Jr. struck with a quick 3 off the tip to take an early lead. Cornell’s deficit would grow to as large as 12 before timely shooting from juniors Ryan Wittman and Geoff Reeves brought the game within reach.
The two were 5-of-10 from behind the arc in the first half, contributing 24 points between them. Two free throws from Wittman with under a minute remaining before the intermission gave the Red its first and only lead of the game.[img_assist|nid=33692|title=On the edge|desc=Junior Ryan Wittman (20) scored a game-high 25 points in the Red’s loss last night.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Wittman played all 40 minutes, tallying 25 points in the loss. He was unable to find his stroke after the break, going only 4-of-11 from the floor, and missing all three of his tries from behind the arc.
St. John’s expanded its lead in the second half, with Mason Jr. scoring 14 of his points in the final 20 minutes.
With the deficit hovering around double digits, senior center Jeff Foote began to take over the game. St. John’s Justin Burrell, despite his double-double performance, was suddenly unable to contain Foote in the post on either end. While Burrell was successful in bringing Foote out to the high post in the first half, he now tried to bring him down low where he, along with other Red Storm players were denied, to the tune of five blocks by Foote.
Foote paid dividends for the surging Red on offense too, scoring 17 of his career-high 20 points in the second half. Foote continued his renaissance man performance, adding seven rebounds and three assists, including one behind-the-back pass that led to an open lay-up and brought the handful of Cornell fans to their feet.
In the mostly empty arena, far from both campuses, the Red Storm fan base was felt, even with the small resounding cheer with every Cornell 3-pointer made. The presence was not so much in numbers, but in sheer volume. One St. Johns fan took it upon himself to berate the refs appealing for every call from charging to illegal block in the back, going as far as breaking into solo choruses of Michael Sembello’s unforgettable song from Flashdance, “Maniac” when unhappy with a call.
The “maniac” will most likely be back in Conte Forum on Tuesday when the Red Storm face the host Boston College Eagles, fresh off their 90-57 victory over Loyola of Maryland, with the winner heading to tournament semifinals at New York’s Madison Square Garden the week of Thanksgiving.
Cornell also returns to action today in its second round consolation game against the Greyhounds of Loyola. The Red is now 1-1 on the season.