NEW YORK (AP)—Connecticut can check road win off its to-do list.
The 24th-ranked Huskies, one of the youngest teams in the country, beat St. John’s 68-59 on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden to snap a two-game losing streak and give a nine-man rotation of sophomores and freshmen some confidence.
“It was a good win because we needed to get a win, obviously,” Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said. “It was the first one on the road for a very young team.”
The Huskies (13-3, 2-2 Big East) had lost at LSU last Saturday to drop to 0-2 on the road and then were beaten at home by Marquette on Wednesday night. They shot 31 percent from the field in each of the losses, were outrebounded and committed an average of 17 turnovers.
The shooting was a lot better (50 percent) against St. John’s, but they were outrebounded 39-36 and had 19 turnovers.
Things were a lot different, though.
Freshmen Stanley Robinson, A.J. Price and Hasheem Thabeet combined for 40 points and the Huskies showed off an effective 2-3 zone that forced St. John’s (10-7, 1-3) to shoot 33 percent from the field.
“Stanley has worked very hard to get himself in the rotation and took real advantage of situations and played terrific for us,” Calhoun said. “I though Hasheem had his best game in uniform. I thought A.J. was closer to the A.J. I know. We are the youngest team in the country and I am trying to deal with that. Sometimes unsuccessfully and sometimes successfully.”
Then there was that zone.
Calhoun left the game with 11:40 to play because of an upset stomach. He returned with 55 seconds to play. Some thought his sudden gastrointestinal problems could have been because his team was playing zone, something rare for a Calhoun-coached team.
“No, it wasn’t the zone,” Calhoun said laughing. “For two days we worked only on the zone. The zone was a major part of getting us the lead. When you played Connecticut over the past six years, if you saw five possessions of zone that was a lot.”
Price scored 15 points, Robinson added 13 points and 12 rebounds and Thabeet had 12 points, 10 rebounds and seven blocks. It all helped Connecticut avoid losing three straight games for the first time since dropping five in a row in January 2001.
“We didn’t have organization and we didn’t have leadership and we lost two games in a row,” Thabeet said. “We talked about it as a team and we are working on playing together.”
Aaron Spears had 11 points for the Red Storm, who lost their third straight and fourth in five games.
“We got the ball in the right positions, we just didn’t make shots,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “We went to the basket hard, some shots just didn’t fall and it allowed them to get a lead.”
The Huskies, who had not lost two straight games in almost three years, scored the game’s first 12 points and appeared headed to an easy win. But they committed 12 turnovers and weren’t able to sustain the hot early shooting. St. John’s was within 31-23 at halftime despite shooting 32.3 percent (10-for-31).
About 3 minutes after Calhoun left the bench, the Huskies took their biggest lead, 52-35 on a dunk by Marcus Johnson. Spears had a three-point play that got the Red Storm within 52-42 with 7:30 to go, but Thabeet scored down low and Robinson hit a 15-foot jumper and a 3-pointer and the lead was 17 again with 4:39 left.
St. John’s was able to get within seven points three times, but the Huskies went 5-for-6 from the free throw line over the final 55 seconds to keep the Red Storm at bay.
“We were patient and stayed with the offense all the way through instead of breaking off for a one-on-one move and got the best possible shot,” Price said.
Connecticut finished at 50 percent for the game (22-for-44) and committed 19 turnovers.
Lamont Hamilton, St. John’s leading scorer at 13.8 per game, had nine points, all in the final 8:16 as he was limited to 19 minutes because of foul trouble.
St. John’s shot 33 percent for the game (23-for-69) and had 11 shots blocked.
“We didn’t execute as well as we needed to,” Roberts said. “I thought we played hard. We competed. We did a great job on the glass. We just have to put the ball in the basket.”