NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — St. John’s couldn’t hit a shot. Well, the Red Storm did make one in a span of 26 shots in a 73-58 loss to No. 11 Louisville on Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden.
A team that has struggled with shooting all season was having a very rough stretch against one of the best defensive teams in the Big East.
“Get a drink of water. My mouth was dry,” St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap said with a laugh when asked what he was thinking during the shooting drought. “You play off the strengths you have. In that half we took some very good shots, point blank, and didn’t make them. Give Louisville credit for contesting the others.”
Dunlap was in charge because head coach Steve Lavin was missing his ninth straight game as he continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6.
Lavin attended the morning shootaround and watched the game from an upstairs suite. He was on the bench for four games this season with the Red Storm going 2-2.
“He talked to us at shootaround,” St. John’s guard Phil Greene said. “He just told the team to stay together and cherish the moment of playing in Madison Square Garden and to play scrappy and stick together.”
As the game was ending Lavin, who is in his second season with St. John’s, released a statement to the media.
“I’ll be going back on the road to recruit Thursday so this was an opportunity on the calendar to attend a game and support the team,” he said. “I will continue a modified schedule with duties that include being at practices, recruiting the 2012 class and attending certain games.”
Lavin took the Red Storm to the NCAA tournament last season, their first appearance since 2002.
Russ Smith scored 17 points, Kyle Kuric had 15 and Gorgui Dieng added 12 for the Cardinals (13-2, 1-1 Big East), who lost to Georgetown and Kentucky last week to drop from fourth to No. 11 in the Top 25.
Louisville came into the game second in the Big East in field goal percentage defense at 36.6 percent. The Red Storm never came near that figure.
The Red Storm missed 25 of 26 shots at one point in the first half and were 5 of 35 (14.3 percent) in falling behind 29-18. They finished 18 of 64 for the game (28.1 percent).
“I think it was a combination of our defense and their shooting,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “We did a good job on their shooters and Gorgui did a tremendous job of guarding the rim.”
Dieng had nine rebounds and seven of Louisville’s 10 blocks.
“We just knew they were young and we tried to do everything possible strategically to take advantage of their youth,” Pitino said. “If you’re a coach with (St. John’s) program you know the future is extremely bright having that type of talent being so young.
“But I’ve never seen this much youth on a basketball team.”
It wasn’t as if the Cardinals were lighting up the place shooting 43.3 percent (26 of 60) for the game.
D’Angelo Harrison had 24 points for St. John’s (7-7, 1-2) and fellow freshman Moe Harkless scored 12.
Louisville trailed 13-12 when it went on a 16-2 run during which St. John’s missed all 11 shots from the field and committed three turnovers. Seven players scored the points for the Cardinals in the run.
St. John’s never got closer than 12 points in the second half and the Cardinals led by as many as 26.
“We had every reason to let go of the rope and let it be a 30-point blowout,” Dunlap said. “Once the ball wasn’t going through the hole we tried to keep it simple.”
St. John’s committed 14 turnovers against Louisville’s pressure defense but Pitino said that wasn’t the goal.
“Sometimes the press does things you don’t notice,” he said. “It doesn’t turn you over or present opportunities but it takes the legs out of shooting the ball.”
St. John’s, which entered the game last in the conference in 3-point shooting at 26.0 percent, finished 2 for 16 from beyond the arc. The Cardinals, 14th in the Big East at 31.4 percent on 3s, were 9 of 22 for the game.
Louisville has won six of the last seven meetings between the teams and it leads the all-time series 10-4.
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(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)