Catching Up On STJ Basketball

Head coach Steve Lavin and the Red Storm started Big East play a day after the New Year, and just as this January weather has produced an unexpectedly warm temperatures in addition to frigid cold, so have the Red Storm.

St. John’s (11-7, 3-3) has shown this month that they can run with some of the conference’s top team, gathering wins against a No. 14 Cincinnati team on the road and No. 20 Notre Dame at The Garden.

But around those big wins, the Johnnies also suffered two heartbreaking losses to Villanova and Rutgers, and an embarrassing Saturday morning defeat to Georgetown.

“We’re a work in progress,” Lavin said after the Notre Dame game. “Expect the unexpected and buckle up and enjoy the rollercoaster ride. This is a wonderfully young team that will, at times play maddening basketball. But they also balance it out with some brilliant play.”

Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison, currently the Big East’s leading scorer, displayed some late game heroics against Cincinnati on Jan. 5, despite having an off night with his jumper. He seemed as though he would take the defending Titus Rubles into the lane, but instead stopped on a dime 15 feet from the basket and sunk a shot to give the Johnnies the 53-52 lead with which they would eventually win.

“My teammates believed in me, coach called it a great play, I got the switch I wanted, and I just pulled up right over him and it was a great shot,” Harrison said. “Coach could have called anyone’s number, and he called my number and I delivered.”

The Johnnies also showed some versatility in their 67-63 win over Notre Dame, switching from their usual matchup zone to a man-to-man against the sharpshooting Fighting Irish.

While the Johnnies were outrebounded 36-32 by Notre Dame, with Harrison leading the team with five boards, St. John’s limited their turnovers to just nine, and got an unexpected defensive contribution from Harrison in the closing seconds of the game when he rose up to block 6-foot-10 Tom Knight’s dunk to preserve the win.

In between those wins were two home losses, a 58-56 defeat against Rutgers in which the Johnnies’ offense went cold, and a 67-51 blowout at the hands of Georgetwon that Sir’Dominic Pointer said left the team “embarrassed.”

“You lose a couple of games and sometimes you feel like you’re never going to win another game,” Hoyas coach John Thompson III said after the game, referring to the losing streak his team had just snapped.

He might as well have been voicing the feelings of the Red Storm, who fell behind 33-10 less than 14 minutes into the game and looked listless in front of a Garden crowd heavy with Hoyas fans.

The team opened the Big East slate with a 98-86 overtime loss against Villanova, where there were flashes of good basketball from St. John’s, but they didn’t have all cylinders clicking at the same time.

The Johnnies shot well against the Wildcats, but big men Maurice Sutton and Mouphtaou Yarou dominated them inside, fouling out Pointer, forward Chris Obekpa and Amir Garrett.

Despite that, Harrison dropped a career-high 36 points to keep the Johnnies in it, including two free throws with one second left to tie the game and send it into overtime.

But in the extra period, the Wildcats went on a 10-0 run to win going away.

On the women’s side, before their blowout loss to Notre Dame, the Red Storm St. John’s had been victorious in their three previous Big East contests.

After a close game on the road against Rutgers, edging the Scarlet Knights 48-44, the Red Storm proceeded to blow out their next two Big East opponents.

The Johnnies proved that the men’s team isn’t the only one to have two home courts, demolishing Seton Hall at The Garden and flattening Pitt at Carnesecca Arena, winning those games by a combined 55 points.

Shenneika Smith continues to show that she is a dominant force in women’s college basketball, scoring a total of 50 points and collecting 20 rebounds in those three conference wins.