Lavin-less Johnnies fall victim to ‘Cuse: Emotional afternoon at the Carrier Dome sees Red Storm come up short

Lately, all the men’s basketball team can think about is hearing their name on Selection Sunday. A win over Syracuse on Feb. 10 would have put them in a good position to get there. The Johnnies, however, fell to the then-No. 9 Orange 77-58 in a heartbreaking day both on and off the court.

In addition to the daunting task of playing a conference rival in an away game at a raucous venue most of the players on the team have never set foot in before, the Johnnies were dealt the tragic news of the passing of Albert “Cap” Lavin, the father of head coach Steve Lavin. Lavin left earlier that morning to head back to San Francisco, while his players were notified of the senior Lavin’s passing before tip-off.

“You could see people’s air just go,” D’Angelo Harrison told reporters after the game. “It’s crazy. I can’t explain it. It was just quiet in the room.”

Assistant Coach Rico Hines led the team in his first appearance as a head coach.

“What a tough way to come out and be a head coach for the first time, huh?” Hines said.

The news seemed to take its toll on the Johnnies, as Syracuse made 50 percent of its shots in the first half. The Orange was also given a boost by returning senior forward James Southerland. Southerland was declared eligible for play that morning, after serving a six-game suspension, reportedly due to academic-related concerns.

Syracuse took the lead early, leading 21-10 in the first 10 minutes. The Red Storm trailed by as many as 15 points twice during the first half before cutting the deficit down to 37-24 at halftime.

The Orange forced a total of 11 turnovers in the first half alone.

Coming out of the locker room after halftime, the Johnnies brought the pressure to the Orange, scoring five points and forcing coach Jim Boeheim to call a time out following a three from Harrison.

“We had a great spirited talk at halftime,’’ Hines said. “They kind of let it all hang out a little bit after halftime.’’

JaKarr Sampson scored a team-high 21 points, 14 of them coming in the second half. Harrison had 13 on the night, including two threes.

“Our kids fought,” Hines said. “They worked as hard as they possibly could.”

St. John’s brought the score to as close as 48-43 at the 11:45 mark, following a 9-2 run that included a three pointer from Marco Bourgault.  It proved to be too little too late, as Southerland managed to score 11 points in the second half, including two threes in the span of just over a minute.

“Getting Southerland back makes them a whole different ball club,” Hines said.

The road does not get any easier for the Johnnies, as they go on the road again to face off against No. 12 Lousiville on Feb. 14. It’s unclear whether Lavin will be back on the bench for that game.