CHARLESTON, S.C. — Twenty-six good minutes wasn’t enough.
Not even close.
It may have been an improvement on the prior performances up to this point, but St. John’s wasn’t going to beat Atlantic 10 favorite Dayton without playing a complete 40 minutes.
After a fast start to the second half, St. John’s either ran out of gas or Dayton hit a gear it couldn’t reach.
Either way, the Flyers were the far better team when it mattered, and advanced to the Charleston Classic with an 88-81 victory at TD Arena.
Dayton took control with a 16-3 run fueled by dynamic big man DaRon Holmes II and never looked back.
St. John’s was outscored by 12 over the final 13 minutes, out-worked, out-hustled and out-played across the board.
The offense grew stagnant, committing nine second half turnovers.
The defense was a sieve, allowing Dayton to shoot a blistering 52 percent from the field.
Joel Soriano was by far the best Johnnies again, notching 21 points and nine rebounds.
He didn’t have much help.
Daniss Jenkins, Chris Ledlum and Jordan Dingle combined to score 33 points on 12-of-33 shooting, a concerning trend for the newcomers.
Holmes led Dayton with 21 points and Nate Santos had 18.
That start was suboptimal: A six-point deficit immediately and an 0-for-5 start from the floor.
It got better quickly.
St. John’s went on to play arguably its best 20 minutes of the young season, going toe-to-toe with the Atlantic 10 favorite, and taking a two-point lead into the break.
Soriano was the star, scoring 14 points on several dunks and a deep 3-pointer.
Jenkins was more of an orchestrator than he had been of late, dishing out four assists.
Young reserves Simeon Wilcher and Zuby Ejiofor showed flashes.
Most of all, St. John’s played with aggression, earning nine more free throw attempts than Dayton and turning five offensive rebounds into 10 second chance points.
And unlike the last two games, when St. John’s ended the first half poorly and coming out of the locker room flat, it finished the first 20 minutes well.
The second half began well for St. John’s.
It built a six-point lead, but was never quite in control.
Dayton made nine of its first 13 shots after the break as the Johnnies began to tire.
The Flyers went on a 12-3 run to reclaim the lead with 10:34 remaining, and added to it, pushing out the advantage to nine with 8:17 to go.
St. John’s never got closer than seven the rest of the way.
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