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After nonconference scare, St. John’s turns to Butler matchup

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A brief return to nonconference play Saturday was long enough to remind Rick Pitino how much work remains in his attempt to rebuild the St. John’s program.

St. John’s will attempt to regain its footing Tuesday night when it hosts Butler in a Big East clash in New York.

St. John’s dodged an upset bid by Hofstra on Saturday afternoon in an 84-79 win in Elmont, N.Y. Butler hasn’t played since Dec. 23, when the visiting Bulldogs fell in overtime to Providence, 85-75.

St. John’s (9-4, 1-1 Big East) frittered away most of a 13-point second-half lead Saturday, when Hofstra got within three points six times while going 8-of-15 from the 3-point line. The Pride finished with 12 3-pointers, one more than the Red Storm allowed in their previous three games combined.

“We knew this was coming because we played them (three) times at Iona,” said Pitino, who spent the previous three seasons coaching the nearby mid-major program. “Don’t take this the wrong way — we had a much better team at Iona than we do at St. John’s.”

With Joel Soriano struggling Saturday — the 6-foot-11 center had 14 points and four rebounds as his double-doubles streak ended at five games — Daniss Jenkins saved St. John’s by flirting with a triple-double (21 points, nine rebounds, eight assists). Jenkins scored 15 of the Red Storm’s final 23 points over the last 8:35.

“He carried us on his back to win the game,” Pitino said. “Every time we had to have a score so they wouldn’t take the lead, he did it.”

Butler (10-3, 1-1 Big East) will arrive in New York having had more than a week to ponder what could have been against Providence. The Bulldogs, who didn’t arrive in Rhode Island until the morning of Dec. 23 due to travel issues, allowed the first 15 points of the game but came back to take a 69-66 lead with nine seconds left.

Head coach Thad Matta said the plan was to prevent Providence from getting off a 3-pointer by fouling before the Friars reached half-court. But the Bulldogs failed to commit the foul and Davonte Gaines drained a game-tying trey with 2.1 seconds left.

Providence scored the first four points of overtime and was never seriously threatened as Butler’s winning streak was snapped at seven games.

“We may have thought it was too late in the clock (to foul), but even when that happens, we can’t lose the 3-point shooter,” Matta said. “That one’s on me that we didn’t have it. That was the plan, but we didn’t get to it.”

The game will be a homecoming for Butler guard Posh Alexander, a Brooklyn native who played the previous three seasons at St. John’s. Alexander ranks fourth on the Bulldogs with 10.7 points per game and leads the team with 67 assists.

–Field Level Media

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