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St. John’s catches No. 5 UConn coming off ’embarrassing’ upset

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St. John’s finally pleased the demanding Rick Pitino on Wednesday night.

But the Red Storm will enjoy no honeymoon period as they must face No. 5 UConn three days after the Huskies infuriated the hard-driving Dan Hurley.

UConn will try to bounce back from a disappointing Big East opener Saturday night when the Huskies host St. John’s in Hartford, Conn.

UConn’s impressive early-season surge ended Wednesday night when the visiting Huskies were upset by Seton Hall, 75-60. That same night, St. John’s never trailed in an 81-66 win over Xavier in Pitino’s return to the Big East sidelines.

The loss was the most lopsided for UConn (10-2, 0-1 Big East) since Jan. 4, 2020, when the Huskies — then a member of the American Athletic Conference — fell to South Florida, also by a 75-60 final.

The defeat was particularly jarring given how UConn looked primed to defend its national championship during nonconference play. The Huskies earned double-digit wins over ranked foes Texas, North Carolina and Gonzaga and suffered their lone loss at Kansas, where the then-No. 5 Jayhawks overcame a five-point second-half deficit in a 69-65 win.

But UConn never found its form Wednesday, when it was outscored 65-40 after opening a 20-10 lead. The Huskies shot just 37.9 percent (22-of-58) from the field, including 4-of-21 from 3-point land, while allowing Seton Hall to pull down 14 offensive rebounds and hit 54.2 percent (26-of-48) of its 2-point field goals.

“We were dreadful,” Hurley said. “We lost so many one-on-one battles out there. That was embarrassing. That was truly embarrassing. We just got completely out of sorts. I didn’t like our energy to start the game. Even up 10, it felt like fool’s gold.”

UConn lost 7-foot-2 center Donovan Clingan to a sprained ankle during the Seton Hall lost. Clingan, who averages 13.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, is unlikely to play against St. John’s after not practicing Friday.

Hurley promised the game review and subsequent practices would be memorable in all the wrong ways for the Huskies.

“(Thursday is) gonna be brutal,” Hurley said. “The video session is going to be crushing because whatever the players think happened out there, when they see the film, the film doesn’t lie. The accountability is going to be super high and we’re going to be brutally honest about how things went here today.”

Pitino offered no shortage of honesty about why St. John’s (8-3, 1-0 Big East) fell short of expectations under previous head coach Mike Anderson. Just two players — star center Joel Soriano and reserve Drissa Traore — returned from last year’s team, which Pitino said treated Anderson with disrespect.

“I asked everybody about the character on the basketball team,” Pitino said during his introductory press conference. “To be honest with you, I didn’t get glowing reports.”

The defense-minded Pitino didn’t offer much praise over the season’s first several weeks to St. John’s, which gave up at least 80 points in four of its first nine games.

But the Red Storm have pleased Pitino over the last two games, during which they’ve led wire-to-wire against Fordham and Xavier while limiting the Rams and Musketeers to 30.3 percent shooting (37-of-122), including just 15.4 percent (6-of-39) from 3-point land.

“I haven’t been impressed with my team at all this year,” Pitino said following the win over Xavier. “Except tonight.”

Soriano put up 18 points, 14 rebounds and five assists against Xavier and paces the Red Storm with 18.0 points and 10.8 rebounds per game.

–Field Level Media

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