St. John’s falls to Creighton as two stars don’t play

Issues off the court are starting to shadow the issues on it for St. John’s.

The big offseason transfer addition, Andre Curbelo, continued to sit out on Saturday, due to an unspecified coach’s decision. And Curbelo’s high school teammate, talented sophomore Rafael Pinzon, was suspended indefinitely for not meeting team standards before St. John’s lost to No. 18 Creighton, 77-67, at a sold-out Carnesecca Arena.

Coach Mike Anderson’s Red Storm have as many top-90 wins (two) as rotation players (two) he won’t play. Before the game, Curbelo made an unexpected visit to the media room. When asked why he wasn’t playing, the former Illinois guard said he didn’t know. Curbelo has not played in the last three games and was suspended earlier in the season for one game for disciplinary reasons.

It’s clearly not a good look for the 63-year-old Anderson, who in October said this was his most talented team in his four years at St. John’s. He will need a Big East Tournament miracle to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018, when he was coaching Arkansas. St. John’s is 1-8 in Quad 1 games, and is headed to a fourth straight year without a postseason berth.

Andre Curbelo (left) sat out St. John's 77-67 loss to Creighton due to an unspecified coach's decision.
Andre Curbelo (left) sat out St. John’s 77-67 loss to Creighton due to an unspecified coach’s decision.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

Anderson’s job status is clearly up in the air. The one thing that could save him is a significant buyout, believed to be close to $10 million after athletic director Mike Cragg gave him a contract extension two years ago through the 2026-27 season.

The team’s issues on and off the court certainly aren’t in Anderson’s favor. St. John’s frequently plays an undisciplined, unstructured and out-of-control brand of basketball. Pressure defense, which was supposed to be the identity under Anderson, has mostly disappeared. St. John’s, which has eight losses by double figures, set a Carnesecca Arena/Alumni Hall record for allowing the most points in regulation in a 96-83 loss to Marquette on Jan. 3. The Red Storm yielded 104 points on Jan. 25 at Creighton, though the Bluejays played their reserves for the last several minutes of that game. That’s the most points the program has allowed since the 2017 Big East Tournament.

Shereef Mitchell shoots a 3-point shot over O'Mar Stanley during St. John's loss.
Shereef Mitchell shoots a 3-point shot over O’Mar Stanley during St. John’s loss.

AJ Storr slams home a dunk during the first half of St. John's loss.
AJ Storr slams home a dunk during the first half of St. John’s loss.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

The rematch was far more competitive. St. John’s, led by Joel Soriano’s 15 points, played extremely hard and was right there most of the way. But familiar issues, from questionable shot-selection to poor 3-point defense to careless turnovers in big moments, was its undoing. The Red Storm committed 15 turnovers, 10 in the second half, allowed Creighton to hit 13 3-pointers, and gave Arthur Kaluma two wide-open looks that he drained, which pushed the lead to seven with 3:33 to go.

Down 12 early in the second half, St. John’s ripped off a 17-4 run. Dylan Addae-Wusu had the highlight, a ferocious one-handed dunk over Creighton 7-foot rim-protector Ryan Kalkbrenner. When Kolby King scored in transition, the Red Storm led 49-48 with 11:53 left.

Creighton went 7:34 without a made field goal, but still held a three-point lead when Ryan Nembhard ended the drought with a floater high off the glass because St. John’s managed just four points after King’s basket until the under-eight timeout. That was its chance, but Creighton ripped off a 21-8 run after briefly trailing, sending St. John’s to yet another frustrating loss in a season full of them.

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