Johnnies Come Back to Beat Lehigh in Lavin’s Comeback
St. John’s men’s basketball head coach Steve Lavin returned to the sidelines in his team’s 78-73 victory against Lehigh in the second game of the 2K Sports Classic for the first time since recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
Despite the hysteria that reverberated through Carnesseca Arena once Lavin walked through the gym doors and onto the court, the Red Storm (2-0) got off to a slow start. Lehigh (0-1) immediately cemented themselves as legitimate opponents as it nailed its first three three-pointers. By the time the midway point of the first half was reached, the Johnnies were trailing by double digits.
Once halftime arrived, Lavin’s team failed to do much to weather Lehigh’s shooting storm, as they trailed, 43-33, despite shooting 57.9 percent from the field. However, the Johnnies also shot just 20 percent from three-point range compared to Lehigh’s 46.2 percent.
“I just don’t think that we came out ready to play,” said freshman forward Moe Harkless. “Lehigh, they came out hitting a lot of shots, playing good defense, and they’re a real well coached team, so it was tough for us.”
The first 10 minutes of the second half were much of the same, but at around the 10 minute mark the Red Storm turned it up defensively and held Lehigh scoreless for a six-minute stretch. They also took back the lead for the first time since the early moments in the first half through a fast break layup from freshman forward Sir’Dominic Pointer with 2:20 left in the game.
Despite losing the lead just seconds later, the Johnnies quickly gained back the advantage, this time for good, through a close range bucket from junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa.
Achiuwa finished with a total of 21 points. He finished a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and 9-of-9 from the free-throw line. The native Nigerian was quite pleased with his performance.
“In the last game we made a bet where I told them (his teammates) I wasn’t going to miss a foul shot, but I ended up missing two,” revealed Achiuwa. “In today’s game, I told them that I had been working on my foul shots and that I’m not going to miss today. After today’s game I said, ‘see I told you guys I wasn’t going to miss any foul shots’.”
Although the Johnnies ended the night with a second consecutive victory, pregame was quite emotional for most of the players. They hadn’t expected Lavin to return for the Lehigh game and were quite surprised when they saw him for the first time during their pregame talk.
“It definitely surprised me, because we had no idea that he’d be there,” said Harkless. “When I saw him, I was actually in the training room getting taped. I jumped up and gave him a big hug, because I hadn’t seen him in a while.
“It’s a good feeling to have our coach back, and we didn’t even have a clue that he’d be back today,” he continued. “We didn’t know he was coming until after the first part of our warm-up until we came in to have our pre-game talk. We were waiting for Coach Dunlap and it was taking a long time, then all of the sudden Coach Lavin walks in.”
“I never knew he was going to coach today’s game, it was such a surprise seeing him, and we’re just glad to have our coach back with us,” added Achiuwa.
Lavin, who was greeted with “We love Lavin” chants as he entered Carnesseca Arena and as he made his way out after the game, was delighted with the welcoming he received from the home crowd.
“Our fans were great tonight and naturally, once you’ve been away for a period of time and you’re able to come back home and join forces with your basketball family, it’s a special night,” he said.
In spite of the warm welcoming and positive result from his first game back, Lavin quickly got back to coaching by highlighting the positives and negatives from his first game back.
“The good news is they [St. John’s] demonstrated resiliency and determination to come back after being down more than double digits,” said Lavin. “We also have to learn that we can’t dig holes like this. We don’t want that to become a trend or a pattern. We have to get better at not digging these double-digit deficits. Obviously, as we move down the line, that will eventually catch up to you.”
Lavin will lead the Red Storm in their next game against UMBC on Nov. 13 at Carnesseca Arena.