To make matters worse, starting guard Jamal Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M, sprained an MCL in his knee in the loss to the Hoyas, which seemed to be a bad sign for St. John’s heading into their matchup tonight against the loaded backcourt of the Connecticut Huskies.
The bad news is that Omar Calhoun and Shabazz Napier combined for an impressive 35 points. The good news is that the Johnnies were able to come up big in tough spots as well as lead by as many as 15 points in the second half. They improved to 7-4 in Big East play with a 61-55 win.
A well balanced scoring attack led by freshman JaKarr Sampson (18 points) with help from D’Angelo Harrison and Marco Bourgault (11 each) carried St. John’s through this dogfight, in which the Huskies only had two players score in the entire first half (Calhoun had 13 points and DeAndre Daniels scored 7).
Even though St. John’s didn’t exactly dazzle the Madison Square Garden crowd with offensive efficiency, going 21-for-55 from the field, they were able to keep their composure when UConn took a 53-51 lead with just under 4:30 to go in the game. The Red Storm answered with a 9-0 run of their own, and closed the game, showing poise as they hit big free throws and came up with some game-clinching stops on the defensive end.
Head coach Steve Lavin has to be happy with the way his young team stayed composed down the stretch, and more importantly, how they’ve closed out close games as of late, including a 79-74 overtime win over DePaul last week, where they were without leading scorer Harrison for the final eight minutes of the game.
Wins build confidence and there’s no doubt that the young Johnnies are transforming into a team of talented players with momentum on their side.
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