While I don’t exactly think an 8-point win over lowly N.J.I.T. is the proper barometer to fully evaluate the St. John’s Red Storm by, I do think Saturday’s 57-49 win was very telling of the type of season it’s been for the Johnnies, winners of four in a row.
Led by D’Angelo Harrison’s 21 points, St. John’s stifled their opponents for the majority of the game, causing N.J.I.T. to shoot a pitiful 32.2 percent from the field. While Harrison did his thing on the perimeter, it was the young bigs that set the pace on the interior, as freshman JaKarr Sampson contributed 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds to go along with fellow freshman Chris Obekpa’s 8 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
That was the good, here’s the bad: St. John’s had to overcome a poor first half that saw them down as many as 14 points. “I was naturally disappointed that we dug a hole and that we were down 14 in the first half,” said coach Steve Lavin, mainly frustrated with his teams performance despite their resilience to close out the game. “Our goal, and it’s been elusive to this point, has been to put together two halves.”
Well, considering they won almost running away, you don’t need to know anymore about the second half, but it’s been as alarming that St. John’s is so slow out of the gate, as it is impressive how they’ve been able to get back into games. The Red Storm have gone into the half with a lead in only three of their first eight games.
“Coach Lavin told us at the end of the game that we can’t start off slow against Big East teams because it’s going to be harder to come back,” said Sampson after the win, acknowledging that their slow starts have become a major concern for the team.
In a still early season, I think Lavin and his young squad have to take the bad with the good, and really focus on the good. I’ve mentioned I’m uncomfortable judging this team based on a win over N.J.I.T., but I do feel better looking back to Thursday’s 89-65 win over South Carolina. While the Gamecocks aren’t exactly royalty of the SEC, it was great to see St. John’s impose their defense on a more polished team, as well as shoot the ball so efficiently. Harrison, who isn’t exactly known for taking the highest percentage shots – or taking care of the ball while we’re playing the blame game – shot 8-for-13 and led the way for his team, as St. John’s shot a season best 56.9 percent.
But as much as Harrison still deserves credit for doing the bulk of the scoring, the story of the early season still has to be how someone else steps up every night for this team still working on forming an identity. Phil Greene’s consistency, combined with Sampson’s early season improvements, and Amir Garrett – who went for 15 points and 11 rebounds off the bench in the South Carolina win – always finding a way to contribute speak heavily for the team camaraderie, and immense amount of guys capable of being leaders.
This team isn’t a one trick pony, and they play damn good defense.
Sounds like a winning formula to me.
For hoops, hip-hop and other random sports and pop culture commentary, follow Jared Mintz on Twitter @JaredMintzTruth