FACTS & STATS: Site: John Paul Jones Arena (14,593) -- Charlottesville, Virginia. Television: ESPN. NIT Record: St. John's 41-26, Virginia 16-10. Series Record: St. John's leads, 7-0.
GAME NOTES: Two teams with plenty of NIT experience and success clash on Sunday in second-round action of the 2013 event, as the top-seeded Virginia Cavaliers play host to the fifth-seeded St. John's Red Storm.
Steve Lavin's Red Storm come into this matchup off a hard-fought 63-61 road win at Saint Joseph's in the first round of this tournament. St. John's, which is now 17-15 on the season, is looking to add to its already impressive NIT record 41 victories in this contest. The Red Storm have six NIT titles to their credit (1943, 1944, 1959, 1965, 1989 and 2003), although the 2003 run and title were vacated by the NCAA in 2006.
Tony Bennett's Cavaliers flirted with an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament down the stretch, but just missed out on the nod. Virginia opened NIT play last week with a 67-56 home win over Norfolk State. The victory pushed the Cavaliers to 22-11 on the season and was their 19th home win this year, a school record. With another win here, Virginia will reach 23 victories on the season, the most since winning 25 during the 1994-95 campaign. Virginia is 16-10 in the NIT all-time, winning tournament titles in 1980 and 1992.
History is not on Virginia's side in this contest, as St. John's has won all seven prior meetings. These two teams are meeting for the first time since the 2003 NIT, a 73-63 St. John's win.
The winner of this matchup will take on Iowa in the quarterfinals on March 27.
It was a buzzer-beating shot by Sir'Dominic Pointer that propelled the Red Storm into the second round of the NIT, as they got by Saint Joseph's on the road, 63-61. Pointer finished the game with 15 points, outdone only by Jakarr Sampson, who led St. John's with 16 points on the night. Phil Greene IV added 10 points to the cause, as the Red Storm shot a solid 55.2 percent from the floor in the second half to overcome an 12-point second-half deficit and earn the win.
The young Red Storm have faced their fair share of adversity this season, including the loss of leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison (17.8 ppg) to suspension a few weeks ago. The brunt of the scoring burden for St. John's now falls on Sampson (14.9 ppg), who has stepped up and delivered, averaging 16.6 ppg over his last 14 games. Sampson, a 6-foot-8 freshman, is also pulling in a team-high 6.6 rebounds per game. He gets defensive help down low by another freshman contributor in 6-foot-9 Chris Obekpa, who grabs 6.1 rpg, while ranking as the nation's top shot-blocker (4.1 bpg). Greene (9.8 ppg) is a sophomore and leads the way in the backcourt.
Without a balanced effort offensively, St. John's could be in trouble against the smothering defensive play of Virginia. The Cavaliers yield a mere 55.2 ppg this year (fourth nationally), as opponents manage to shoot .386 from the floor overall (16th nationally). The team is led by a pair of All-ACC performers in First-Team honoree Joe Harris in the backcourt and Third-Team member Akil Mitchell in the frontcourt. Harris is a "do-everything" guard, as the junior is averaging 16.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. The 6-foot-8 Mitchell can dominate in the low post. The junior forward has 12 double-doubles to his credit this season and is averaging 13.3 points and 9.0 rebounds per game. Senior point guard Jontel Evans (4.4 ppg) isn't much of a scorer, but is vital to what Virginia does offensively, doling out 4.9 assists per game.
Virginia's defensive tenacity was on full display against Norfolk State last time out, as the home team allowed just 14 total field goals in the game, holding Norfolk State to a mere .269 shooting performance. Mitchell picked up that 12 double-double in the win, posting 15 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Freshman Justin Anderson also netted 15 points in the win, while Harris had a relatively quiet outing, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds for Virginia, which shot a solid .476 from the floor overall.
The Cavaliers are 19-1 at home this season and with St. John's youth and lack of scoring depth, Virginia finally should end its skein against the Red Storm.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Virginia 60, St. John's 53
03/24 10:30:14 ET
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