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St. John's 76, Maryland 62

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KNOXVILLE, TENN. (AP) — Mike Jarvis didn't realize just how good St. John's was in the first half.

The Red Storm scored 20 straight points over the final 7:11 of the first half Thursday night and went on to beat Maryland 76-62 to reach the final of the NCAA South Regional.

``The first half was incredible, particularly the defense. Until I was told at halftime we had a 20-0 run, I didn't know how good a run it was,'' Jarvis said.

St. John's (28-8) never trailed after going inside to Bootsy Thornton late in the first half. The Red Storm had suffered through an early 4-of-18 shooting slump before consecutive baskets by Thornton started what became the game-deciding run.

Thornton, who finished with 17 points, converted a dandy pass from Ron Artest into a basket and a 20-19 lead with 7:11 left.

``I wasn't expecting to be up 19 or 20. It gave me confidence in my team. There is no way we could do that except as a team,'' Artest said.

After a Maryland miss, Barkley fed Thornton for another inside shot. As St. John's scored 20 straight points to take a 38-19 halftime lead, Maryland missed its last 10 shots and had its lowest scoring half of the season.

``They didn't get a chance to run what they wanted to run,'' Thornton said. ``We took away a lot of what they wanted to. I think that's why they got frustrated.''

St. John's plays Ohio State, a 72-64 winner over Auburn, Saturday for a trip to the Final Four.

Maryland (28-6) finally came alive midway through the second half, but it wasn't enough to avoid having its season end in the round of 16 for the fourth time in six years.

``That is small consolation what happened in the first half,'' said Maryland coach Gary Williams. ``We would have liked to have lost giving it our best shot offensively and defensively. It just got out of hand in the first half and that really cost us.''

Five days after handing Indiana its worst NCAA tournament defeat ever, St. John's appeared on the way to another blowout victory before Maryland used a 19-2 run to get within single digits.

Still, things ended with another premature exit from the NCAA tournament for Maryland. The Terrapins have made 13 NCAA tournament appearances since advancing to their last regional title game, in 1975.

``I'm very disappointed,'' said Williams, who has 399 career victories. ``I always am when the season is over, but especially tonight. I think we had a special group that had a chance to advance.''

The pressure was on Maryland to make it to the Final Four. But Jarvis, who took George Washington to the round of 16 in 1993, has tried to take pressure off his young team by telling them to have fun and enjoy their ``fantastic voyage'' through the tournament.

They must have really enjoyed themselves against Maryland.

When the Terrapins finally got the deficit under 10 points twice in the second half, Erick Barkley - who led St. John's with 24 points - responded.

Maryland's 19-2 run ended on driving layup by Steve Francis with 6:33 left that made it 58-49.

After Barkley hit two free throws with 5:42 left, Francis made hit two free throws for Maryland. But Barkley's 3-pointer from the top of the key pushed the margin back to 63-51 and Maryland never got under double digits again.

``I anticipated the run and I told the kids it was coming. Was I nervous? You bet your life I was,'' Jarvis said. ``Did I think we were going to lose? No, but I did ask for a little divine help.''

Francis, with 13 points, was the only player in double figures for Maryland, who shot only 35 percent from the field and finished well below its season scoring average of 85.2.

St. John's had a 56-30 lead, its largest, before freshman Danny Miller's 3-pointer with 10:39 left started the Terps' surge during which six different players scored. Miller also converted a three-point play.

``You just keep playing, hope shots will fall and you can get some stops. We couldn't do either one,'' said Maryland's Laron Profit.