Reporting from New York -- Madison Square Garden was buzzing Friday night, with Paul McCartney seated near courtside to check out New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin.
Less than 24 hours later, UCLA put itself through a hard day’s night on the same floor amid considerably reduced fanfare.
The Bruins continually flubbed the ball against St. John’s. They looked less composed than a team starting five freshmen. They allowed more second chances than they had earlier this season for Reeves Nelson.
It wasn’t the kind of exposure UCLA was seeking during a nationally televised 66-63 loss Saturday to a sub-.500 team in an arena that was a little more than one-third filled.
The Bruins surrendered 19 offensive rebounds, including one on a missed block-out by Jerime Anderson leading to Phil Greene’s tip-in with six seconds left that gave St. John’s a four-point lead.
“I was just looking at the ball and lost track of my guy,” Anderson said, shaking his head.
There was another lamentable moment for the backup point guard with four seconds left when he made only one of two free throws to pull the Bruins within 66-63.
UCLA (15-12) had one final chance when St. John’s forward Moe Harkless missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity a second later, but David Wear’s three-quarters-court heave at the buzzer was well off the mark.
And so the Bruins were headed home losers, displaying more urgency as they left their locker room than they had in chasing rebounds against the Red Storm (11-16).
“We were having trouble locating guys to box out,” Wear said. “We would box out pretty well but then miss a guy.”
The Bruins held St. John’s to 36.9% shooting but gave up 26 second-chance points and allowed four St. John’s players to reach double figures in scoring. Guard D’Angelo Harrison led the Red Storm with 22 points.
There were other issues that furrowed UCLA Coach Ben Howland’s brows.
Sophomore guard Tyler Lamb scored 18 points but committed eight of the Bruins’ 16 turnovers, and guards Anderson, Lazeric Jones and Norman Powell combined to make only two of 18 shots. Sophomore center Joshua Smith had two dunks in the first three minutes but couldn’t keep up the pace, finishing with a relatively quiet 13 points.
“The key defensively was the Johnnies’ effectively swarming Josh Smith like bees on honey,” St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin said afterward in a statement, putting his typically colorful spin on things.
The former UCLA coach had watched the game from a suite high above the court while continuing his recovery from prostate cancer. Lavin has not coached the Red Storm since November but said he was cancer-free and would continue to assess his status week to week.
“I’m pretty active along the sidelines,” Lavin said, “so it wouldn’t be fair to the kids for me to ask them to give 100% if I’m not capable.”
Lavin’s team was plenty proficient Saturday, though its opponent didn’t always exert full effort.