Lavin And Co. Edge Past Detroit
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The St. John’s men’s basketball team’s old guard of returning players, along with a few new faces, was the difference-maker in their come-from-behind 77-74 win Tuesday afternoon at Carnesecca Arena.
The game, which was featured on ESPN’s 24 Hour College Hoops Tip-off marathon, was the first regular season chance for Red Storm (1-0) fans to witness the top recruiting class head coach Steve Lavin brought in before his third season. What was quickly discovered, however, was that the four returning players anchored play throughout the game.
“We know how to fight,” sophomore D’Angelo Harrison said. “We had guys who haven’t played in a game like this. Having them step up and make plays was amazing. We’re going to grind it out all the way.”
Detroit had a 37-29 lead at halftime and maintained a sizeable lead through the early portion of the second half. St. John’s went on to seize momentum starting at the 9:19 mark as they went on a seven point run to tie the score at 60-60. The Johnnies gave up two more points before taking the lead for good down the stretch.
“Naturally, our staff is proud of our team’s gritty performance, finding a way to get a win this afternoon,” Lavin said. “As a group, the players showed a collective spirit. There was some good counterpunching.”
Harrison, coming off the bench following his saga of not starting in the first preseason game and not playing in the second, led the team with 22 points and five rebounds. Sophomore Phil Greene contributed a career high 20 points and sophomore Amir Garrett followed with 15 points.
“Phil stepped up, he hit big shots in the first half,” Harrison said. “Once we got more stops, we took it on from there and we played good defense from there, too.”
Freshman Chris Obekpa, playing in his first career game, set a new record for most blocked shots for a St. John’s player with eight. He passed Robert Werdann’s record of seven in 1979.
“I just kept playing like the heat was on,” Obekpa said. “It could have been better. I want to have 10 blocks next time.”
“In my experience as a coach and a broadcaster, he’s unique to anyone I’ve seen,” Lavin said. “Obekpa is 6’8” [opposed to 6’10”], but it’s the length and the timing [that benefits him].”
Freshman Felix Balamou dressed for the contest and is expected to play for the Red Storm this season, while seniors God’sgift Achiuwa, Orlando Sanchez and junior Marco Bourgault wore sweatsuits and didn’t participate in pregame warmups.
“[We’re] waiting on word related to Marco and Orlando, and Gift, in all likelihood, will be a redshirt this year,” Lavin said.