NEW YORK — The St. John’s Red Storm are off to their best start in six years after Wednesday’s 70-61 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
The Red Storm (4-0), who received 19 points from guard D’Angelo Harrison and 18 points from guard Rysheed Jordan, will face the winner of Gonzaga and Georgia in Friday’s final.
Minnesota (3-1) was led by freshman guard Nate Mason’s 15 points.
The Red Storm closed out the game on a 15-2 run after trailing by nine points at the half.
Harrison’s four-point play put the Red Storm ahead 65-59 with 2:23 to play. He was fouled by center Elliott Eliason while sinking a 3-pointer from the left baseline. Harrison kept the play alive by diving for loose ball that was headed out-of-bounds, then put himself in position for the 3-pointer.
He played 40 minutes, contributing nine rebounds and six steals.
“He (Harrison) is so lethal,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino. “He can make shots from anywhere. He made a big shot when you think he would have been tired. He gritted it out.”
Eliason admitted the four-point play turned the game in favor of St. John’s.
“It was a huge mistake and frankly I’m embarrassed about it,” he said. “It was a huge turn.”
Jordan’s free throw tied it at 59 with 3:49 left, then on St. John’s next possession, Harrison’s two free throws gave St. John’s a 61-59 lead with 3:33 to go.
Harrison was just 2-for-10 from the floor, but received encouragement from his teammates. He ended up 5-of-17.
“My teammates did a good job of staying with me,” Harrison said. “They said, ‘You’re a shooter, shoot it.”
St. John’s had a chance to take its first lead of the second half, but Harrison missed both free throws with 4:37 to play and the Golden Gophers clinging to a 59-58 edge.
A 7-2 St. John’s run brought the Red Storm to within two at 51-49 at the 12:35 mark of the second half.
Minnesota sank six of its 11 3-point attempts in the first half and led 40-31 at the break. The Red Storm failed to connect on any of its nine first-half 3-point tries.
Minnesota guard Carlos Morris gave the Golden Gophers a 20-18 lead on a 3-pointer, then proceeded to score five of his team’s next 16 points as Minnesota grabbed a 36-27 lead with three minutes left in the half. The Red Storm scored only nine points in the sequence.
NOTES: St. John’s scored 24 points off of 20 Minnesota turnovers. … Minnesota was without reserve G Daquein McNeil. The sophomore was arrested Monday on two counts of domestic assault. McNeil was suspended indefinitely by the school. He has a court appearance on Monday in Minnesota. McNeil allegedly hit his girlfriend with a belt. McNeil was a role player for the Golden Gophers, playing close to 19 minutes a game and averaging 3.2 points and 3.3 rebounds this season. “This is obviously bigger than basketball,” said Minnesota coach Richard Pitino. “It’s certainly a difficult situation, we understand that.”… Minnesota won its first three games by an average margin of 30.7 points. … The teams met for the third time. The Golden Gophers won in 1994 and 1996, but both results were later vacated by the NCAA. … Minnesota made its seventh appearance at Madison Square Garden. … Junior C Chris Obekpa is St. John’s career leader in blocked shots.
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