No. 4 Connecticut beats St. John’s 67-55

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NEW YORK (AP)—Kemba Walker had played on the Madison Square Garden court in some high-profile high school games. On Thursday night, he played there for the first time for Connecticut and it was quite a performance.

Walker had 21 points and used his speed to take over the fourth-ranked Huskies’ 67-55 victory over St. John’s.

“It was definitely good to be back here,” the freshman point guard said after going 8-for-12 from the field and getting five rebounds and four assists. “I kind of exploded tonight offensively but I really wanted to win and have fun. I’m proud of my teammates.”

The questions stopped for a second and the New York City native offered, “I’m home.”

Technically, home is now Storrs, Conn., for the former Rice High School star — and nobody is happier about that than Huskies coach Jim Calhoun.

“He may be as good at change of pace at the top as any kid I’ve ever coached,” Calhoun said. “He takes a great joy in playing the game of basketball and from someone who cares about the sport that’s great to see.”

Senior forward Jeff Adrien added 17 points and 11 rebounds in the fourth straight win for the Huskies (15-1, 4-1 Big East) since they lost their conference opener at home to Georgetown.

This was the last of a three-game trip for Connecticut, the ninth time the Huskies have had that long a stretch under Calhoun. This was the first time they won all three.

“We’re 15-1 with nine ranked teams left to play. We’ve got some work ahead of us,” Calhoun said. “You can only take what you’ve got.”

Sophomore guard Paris Horne had a career-high 24 points for the Red Storm (10-6, 1-3), who lost for the fifth time in six games with the lone win over then-No. 7 Notre Dame. This was St. John’s third game against a top 10 team in the last 13 days as it fell 90-67 at No. 1 Pittsburgh on Sunday.

“We were just too careless with the basketball,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said, referring to his team’s 16 turnovers. “It’s tough to score on them with those big guys. We played hard and had guys playing 40 minutes and 36 minutes and they’re running guys in and out.”

Horne’s jumper with 16:08 to play had St. John’s within 37-36, but the Red Storm struggled against Connecticut’s zone defense and the Huskies were able to pull away.

Walker scored the last six points of a 7-0 run that gave Connecticut a 51-38 lead with 9:33 to go. He hit his only 3-pointer of the game—a bank shot—to cap the run.

“That’s my job, to bring energy, and I did tonight and it paid off,” said Walker, who had St. John’s as one his final college choices. “At halftime we talked it out and came out and exploded on them.”

Many of Walker’s field goals came on layups and driving shots as he used his speed to get ahead of the play after a St. John’s missed shot.

“He played great and it was his first game at home, at the Garden,” Adrien said. “He got a win, he scored, he did everything he had to to get a win and that’s really great for him.”

Walker’s season high is 23 points against La Salle in the third game of the season. He came in averaging 9.8 points per game.

Twice the Red Storm got within nine points, but both times A.J. Price hit a 3-pointer—his only 3s of the game—to restore a double-digit lead.

“A.J. hit two big 3s that allowed the game not to go down to the wire,” Calhoun said. “If you’re going to beat St. John’s you better bring your hard hat and helmet because they really, really work.”

The Red Storm shot 38.5 percent in the second half (10-for-26), including 2-for-10 from 3-point range.

Horne’s previous best was 18 points against New Jersey Tech earlier this season. Horne, who came in averaging 12.4 points, was 9-of-13 from the field, including 3-of-5 on 3s.

“Against Notre Dame, we won the game. Against Pitt, we played a half and tonight we could have allowed ourselves to get knocked out and we didn’t, so we learned something,” Roberts said.

This was Connecticut’s eighth straight win over St. John’s with the Red Storm’s last victory an 85-83 overtime decision on Feb. 9, 2002.

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Top Performers

 Top Performers
Kemba Walker Kemba Walker
8-12,  21 Pts
5 Rebs, 4 Assists
 St. John's
Paris Horne Paris Horne
9-13,  24 Pts
2 Rebs, 0 Assists

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Thursday, Jan 15