The St. John’s men’s basketball team was stunned in their final out of conference game as they lost to UNC-Asheville 72-65 after relinquishing a 17-point lead.
The Red Storm (8-4) got ahead early but couldn’t sustain it as they allowed Asheville to go on a 14-4 run with 6:45 remaining to take the lead.
“I think it was just not putting the game away,” said sophomore guard Phil Greene. “We just collapsed.”
Early on, the story line revolved around how, for the first time in 12 contests, the Johnnies had prevented a catch-up situation thanks to their lead. It all came tumbling down quickly and it’s something that head coach Steve Lavin has already had to deal with this season.
“If you look at our games, we were up nine on Baylor, up 13 on Murray State and up 17 tonight,” Lavin said. “So if we sustain, we’d probably be 11-1 and ranked 15th in the country.”
The Red Storm haven’t sustained in those contests and Lavin has spoken of keeping his team even-keeled even during high moments. On Friday, though, the coach was questioned about how often he rotated his nine-man lineup.
“With our style of play, we need to rotate bodies, similar to the way we did my first year when we went nine deep,” Lavin said. “With our full-court pressure, our trapping and our rotations, we need to rotate.”
While the worst collapse the Red Storm have experienced since Lavin’s first year when his senior-laden team blew a 20-point lead to Fordham stole the spotlight, the evening wasn’t entirely filled with bad news.
Sophomore guard Jamal Branch made his St. John’s debut following a year on the sidelines due to his transfer from Texas A&M last January. He started his Johnnies career with a flourish, showing off a no-look pass to fellow sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison for an assist.
“It makes it easier for me to score,” Harrison said referring to Branch’s role. “I’ve known him for a long time and he knows where I’m at on the court. We have good chemistry.”
Harrison led the team with 24 points, while Jakarr Sampson added 17. Junior Marco Bourgault made his first career start and coupled it with a career high eight points.
The Red Storm now have an 11 day layoff before heading to Philadelphia to start Big East conference play against Villanova.
“After winning six out of our last seven, dropping this one hurts,” Harrison said. “We’re going to get back to the drawing board.”