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Utah couldn’t match aggression of St. John’s in second straight loss at Charleston Classic

St. John’s outshot and outhustled Utah en route to a 91-82 victory during the final day of the tournament

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St. John’s Jordan Dingle looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in New York, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023.

St. John’s Jordan Dingle looks to pass during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Michigan in New York, Monday, Nov. 13, 2023.

Peter K. Afriyie, Associated Press

Facing an aggressive defense for the second straight game, the Runnin’ Utes couldn’t keep pace in falling 91-82 to St. John’s on Sunday during the third-place game at the Charleston Classic on Sunday at TD Arena in Charleston, South Carolina.

“They capitalized on a lot of our mistakes, specifically on the defensive end,” Utah coach Craig Smith said of a Red Storm team led by coach Rick Pitino.

“They’re a good team. They create a lot of chaos with their pressing — they’re athletic up and down their lineup, but specifically in the back court.”

That came two days after Utah stayed with No. 6 Houston, who leads the nation in scoring defense, before falling by 10 on Friday.

Now, the Utes will have a chance to rest and rehab before resuming action after the Thanksgiving holiday.

The biggest factor

Inconsistency on both ends was the theme of the game for Utah against St. John’s.

The Red Storm held Utah to 44.1% shooting — that dipped a bit to 42.9% in the second half — and led much of the night before pulling away over the game’s last few minutes.

That aggression carried over to the offensive end for St. John’s, as the Red Storm shot 53% from the field — that included hitting 13 3-pointers, as St. John’s had an answer each time Utah fought its way back into the game.

It all started with the pressure St. John’s applied to the Runnin’ Utes.

“They were just pressuring us, and we weren’t ready to handle it for some stretches,” Utah center Branden Carlson said. “They were picking up a full-court press and putting a man on the inbounder, and some of those took us off attack and made us not as confident with our game. There were stretches we just didn’t handle it well.”

The Runnin’ Utes got off to a slow start, as St. John’s built a 19-7 edge through the game’s first seven minutes.

Over the next six minutes, Utah fought back to within a point, only to see St. John’s extend its lead back to nine at halftime, 52-43.

“We played in spurts, and you can’t play in spurts.” — Utah coach Craig Smith

The Utes went on an 11-0 run to start the second half and briefly held a 54-52 lead, but the Red Storm — again, using a stifling defensive effort that led to offensive opportunities — regained control of the game and pushed their lead back over double-digits with a little more than nine minutes to play.

St. John’s maintained a two-plus possession lead the remainder of the way.

Being behind by double-digits was a theme Utah found itself in throughout its three games at the Charleston Classic — the Utes trailed by as many as 12 points in each contest, though they fought back to beat Wake Forest in the opener.

When Utah rallied early in the second half Sunday, it looked like perhaps the Utes could manufacture another victory, but St. John’s was able to weather the storm and surge back ahead.

“We put up a fight, but St. John’s they just stretched that lead after it got tied,” Utah guard Cole Bajema said. “They sped us up too much. We’ve got to be better with pressure. We’ll bounce back. We’ll get better.”

Those inconsistent spurts against St. John’s were simply too much to overcome for Utah, which had 14 assists on 30 made field goals — a ratio lower than its average early in the season.

“We played in spurts, and you can’t play in spurts,” Smith said. “We had spurts where we were really, really good tonight on both sides, but specifically on the offensive end. And then we had spurts where we it was like, what is going on out there?”

Other key takeaways

Stars of the game: Guard Jordan Dingle tied the St. John’s team lead with four 3-pointers and had 18 points to go with five assists and three rebounds. Fellow guard Daniss Jenkins added a team-high 19 points, eight assists, four rebounds and three steals for the Red Storm.

Carlson, who dealt with foul trouble, scored 22 points and eight rebounds and two assists to pace four Utah players in double-figures, along with Bajema (14), Rollie Worster (12) and Gabe Madsen (11).

Fast break edge goes to St. John’s: The Red Storm had a 16-5 advantage in fast break points — the majority of that fast break edge came in the first half, when St. John’s scored 14 points in transition compared to two for Utah.

St. John’s actually had more turnovers than Utah — 16 to 12 — and the Utes held a 24-10 edge in points off turnovers, but Smith lamented how some of those turnovers seemingly came at critical moments.

“Some of them felt very costly at the time,” the coach said.


Utah’s head coach Craig Smith cheers on his team in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Houston during the Charleston Classic in Charleston, S.C., Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

Mic Smith, Associated Press

Red Storm neutralize Utah’s inside edge: Though Utah is the second-tallest team in college basketball, St. John’s held a 42-32 rebounding edge — St. John’s leading scorer, 6-foot-11 Joel Soriano, had a double-double with 12 points and 15 rebounds. The Utes did hold a slight edge in points in the paint, at 38-32.

Tight rotation: The Utes were missing two main contributors in Sunday’s game due to undisclosed injuries — big man Keba Keita played in the first game of the tournament but missed Friday’s game before also being sidelined Sunday, while guard Wilguens Jr. Exacte has yet to play this season.

As a result, the Utes only had three bench players earn 10-plus minutes of playing time.

After Houston put up 27 bench points to just 2 for Utah two days earlier, this time the Utes got 18 points off the bench, compared to 14 for St. John’s.

The highlights

What’s next?

Utah (3-2) won’t play during Thanksgiving week, then will head to California for a game against Saint Mary’s on Monday, Nov. 27 — it’s the Utes’ lone true road game in nonconference play.

The Gaels are 2-3 on the season, after losing 66-49 to Xavier on Sunday at the Continental Tire Main Event in Las Vegas.

Charleston Classic schedule

All times Mountain Standard Time


  • Game 1: St. John’s 53, North Texas 52.
  • Game 2: Dayton 70, LSU 67.
  • Game 3: Houston 65, Towson 49.
  • Game 4: Utah 77, Wake Forest 70.


  • Consolation 1: LSU 66, North Texas 62.
  • Semifinal 1: Dayton 88, St. John’s 81.
  • Semifinal 2: Houston 76, Utah 66.
  • Consolation 2: Wake Forest 71, Towson 61.


  • 7th-place game: North Texas 65, Towson 39.
  • 5th-place game: LSU 86, Wake Forest 80.
  • 3rd-place game: St. John’s 91, Utah 82.
  • Championship game: Houston 69, Houston 55.