The St. John’s men’s basketball team had a scare Nov. 1 against Division III St. Mary’s, trailing late in the second half before rallying for a 77-70 win in its final exhibition game at Carnesecca Arena.
After a layup by St. Mary’s forward Christian MacAuley put the Seahawks up 56-53 with 6:32 left, the Red Storm ripped off an 18-4 run in the next five minutes to help avoid a potentially embarrassing loss.
“We needed a game where we could come together in the end,” said freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison. “We were losing with like five, six minutes left and it kind of pulled us together. We had tighter huddles; we had more talking on defense. We became more as a team.”
The Johnnies were led by freshman forward Maurice Harkless, who scored 20 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Junior center God’sgift Achiuwa also had a double-double with 15 points and 10 boards.
St. John’s spent an “inordinate” amount of time focused on defense in the past week, according to assistant coach Mike Dunlap. After allowing C.W. Post to shoot 47%, the Johnnies held St. Mary’s to 38% shooting from the field.
“The defense definitely improved,” said sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey. “This week in practice, we worked extremely hard on the rotation, getting to the right spots. Defense is us. St. John’s is defense. Our coaching staff emphasizes defense.”
St. Mary’s forced them to stay disciplined in their 1-1-3 zone, working the ball around patiently and forcing St. John’s to defend for most of the 35-second shot clock. The Johnnies did this effectively, allowing only 18 points in the paint.
However, they still gave up 13 threes, including five from Seahawks guard Devin Spencer, who finished with a game-high 25 points. This didn’t concern the coaching staff.
“We’re not a big team, so we’d rather teams beat us from long distance than continue to get points in the paint,” said assistant coach Rico Hines. “Sometimes we have to live with that, as long as they’re contested threes. A lot of those shots were contested threes.”
Hines watched the game from the stands. He had surgery on his Achilles after hurting it in practice last week, while head coach Steve Lavin is still recovering from prostate cancer surgery and was not in attendance. As a result, Dunlap was in charge for the second straight game.
St. John’s opens the regular season on Nov. 7 against William & Mary at Carnesecca Arena. Hines thought that St. Mary’s deliberate tempo prepared the team well for William & Mary’s style of play.
“Watching a lot of film on [William & Mary], they take the air out of the basketball as well,” he said. “Every team is not going to run and gun with us. Some teams are going to take the air out of the basketball and make us guard for 29, 30 seconds into the shot clock, and I think [St. Mary’s] did a good job of taking the air out of the ball.