Red Storm will face top-seeded Oregon State on Sunday night in Corvallis
A brilliant goal from Brandon Knapp in the 43rd minute of action lifted the St. John's men's soccer team to a 1-0 victory over Princeton in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday night in Queens.
With the win, St. John's will advance to face top-seeded Oregon State in the second round on Sunday night in Corvallis. Kick-off is set for 9 p.m. ET.
Making the program's 22nd NCAA Tournament appearance under the direction of Dr. David Masur, St. John's has now won at least one game on 14 of those occasions. A win on Sunday would advance the Red Storm to the NCAA Round of 16 for the second time in the last three seasons and the 13th time overall.
Atila Ashrafi picked up his fourth assists of the season on Knapp's game-winner. Of Knapp's team-leading five goals this season, four have been game-winners.
Luka Gavran made two saves to extend his NCAA-best shutout total to 12. The redshirt junior from Hamilton, Ont., moved into a tie with Guy Hertz (2001) for third place on the program's single-season shutouts list. Only Jason Landers (13, 2006) and Neal Kitson (15, 2008) rank ahead of Gavran on that ledger.
As a team, St. John's outshot Princeton, 12-6, including a 4-2 edge in shots on target. In the second half, the Red Storm recorded seven shots to the Tigers' two. St. John's also earned nine corner kicks on the match compared to just four for Princeton.
Princeton recorded the game's first great scoring chance in the 21st minute, as Malik Pinto sent a shot on target from inside the box that was turned aside by Gavran.
Just a few minutes later, the Johnnies responded with an even better string of opportunities. After an initial corner kick deflected out of bounds and resulted in a second, Matt Chandler headed a ball on target with authority, but Princeton defender Stephen Duncan made a tremendous effort to save a goal. Duncan's clear attempt found the head of Einar Lye, who sent a less threatening header on cage that was gathered by Princeton keeper Jack Roberts.
About 15 minutes after those initial chances, the Red Storm broke through. With possession of the ball in the attacking third, Ashrafi attempted to play it out to the left flank. Instead, the pass took an unexpected deflection of the foot of a Princeton defender and found its way to Knapp just inside the 18. The senior captain took a half-turn and whipped a left-footed grounder to the far corner of the cage, putting the Johnnies ahead 1-0 in the waning minutes of the opening stanza.
St. John's nearly doubled its lead in the early going of the second half, as Wesley Leggett headed a ball of the cross bar in the 49th.
The Red Storm narrowly missed extending its advantage again in the 67th minute, as Nicolas Fleuriau Chateau rocketed a shot that was saved by Roberts before Knapp's header was deflected away by the last Princeton defender. Fleuriau Chateau took a team-high three shots despite playing just 19 minutes.
In desperate need of an equalizer, Princeton made one last push in the final five minutes. Gavran smothered a bicycle kick from two-time Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year Kevin O'Toole in the 85th before making a composed play to corral a loose ball and neutralize a Princeton threat in the 87th.
Sunday's match will be the first-ever meeting between St. John's and the Beavers. The Red Storm has played on the road at a Pac-12 opponent just twice in its history, defeating Cal-Berkeley, 3-2, on Nov. 1, 1998, before taking down UCLA, 2-1, in the 2004 NCAA Round of 16.