INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Butler’s first four home games as a member of the Big East Conference had each gone to overtime.
St. John’s saw to it that wouldn’t happen again.
JaKarr Sampson scored 20 points and the Red Storm rolled to a 69-52 win on Saturday, St. John’s first win outside of New York City this season.
“I thought this was a good win for our team in a tough environment,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said. “It’s no secret we’ve had our struggles in January and to open this conference season.
“I think today we took a step in the right direction.”
Rysheed Jordan added 16 points and D’Angelo Harrison scored 12 for the Red Storm (12-8, 2-5), who followed Thursday’s home win over Seton Hall with its first true road win of the season. St. John’s’ two victories away from campus had both been at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
The Bulldogs had made extra sessions a part of their first season in the Big East. But their efforts to rally on Saturday were done in by a woeful second half.
Butler (11-9, 1-7) was just 6-of-22 (27.3 percent) from the field in the second half after scorching the Red Storm for 61.9 percent shooting (13-of-21) in the first half.
“I felt if we could force a faster tempo, our deeper bench would help us,” Lavin said.
Khyle Marshall had 16 points and Kellen Dunham scored 13 for the Bulldogs, whose streak of 18 seasons with at least 10 home wins is in jeopardy. The Bulldogs are 7-4 this year with four home games remaining.
“Our guys are still holding their heads up high, they know there’s a lot of games left to play,” Marshall said.
Butler coach Brandon Miller said his team’s defense wasn’t as good as it needed to be against the Red Storm. St. John’s shot 30 of 57 from the field (52.6 percent).
The lead changed 10 times in the first half as both teams had scoring runs to build notable leads.
Butler used an 8-0 run to build a 25-15 lead, its largest of the game, and led 27-18 with 9:25 to play in the first half after Marshall hit a jumper to answer a Harrison 3-pointer that broke St. John’s nearly 3-minute scoreless streak.
After Marshall’s basket, the Red Storm went on a 9-0 run that tied the game at 27. Marshall made 1-of-2 free throws out of the TV timeout with 5:43 to play in the half to make the score 28-27, but the Red Storm outscored the Bulldogs 14-6 to lead 41-34 at halftime.
St. John’s scored the first eight points of the second half to build a seemingly insurmountable 49-34 lead.
“They were sharp in what they were trying to do on both ends of the floor,” Miller said. “As the game progressed, they got better and better.”
But the Bulldogs battled back to within 57-50 with 8:35 to play, prompting a timeout by Lavin.
After an extended scoreless drought for both teams, St. John’s built its lead back to double-digits to hand Butler its worst home loss since a 93-73 defeat to Xavier in the 1993-94 season.
“I thought our guys did compete, especially narrowing down that deficit,” Marshall said. “You’ve got to give credit to St. John’s for showing poise.”
The loss also kept Butler in last place in the Big East.
“Our first year at St. John’s, we had some struggles,” Lavin said. “Matter of fact, we had the same record coming into today that we had my first year.
“If you watch Butler, given their lack of depth and where their current personnel is, Coach Brandon is maximizing getting the most out of his team. Unfortunately it’s such a competitive league this year,” Lavin said.
“We’re continuing to make progress,” Miller said. “Our team’s continuing to get better in practice, individuals are getting better.
“… We have fighters, we have competitors in that locker room.”
The game was part of the weekend’s Coaches vs. Cancer Suits and Sneakers Awareness Weekend, and featured coaching staffs of both teams wearing sneakers and suits. The weekend has special significance for Lavin, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in September 2010 and had surgery the following year.