Johnnies squeeze past Gators in exhibition

The St. John’s men’s basketball team survived a scare from Division II San Francisco State 82-80 in its first exhibition game of the season after trailing by as many as eight points in the second half.

Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison gave the Red Storm the lead 81-80 at 17 seconds remaining with a step-back jumper before adding a point with a free throw. A 3-point attempt at the buzzer by Gators guard Otiono fell short to seal the result.

“We need to get back to the drawing board,” Harrison said. “A lot of defensive mistakes, we’ll clean that up, it’s early.”

Reigning Big East Rookie of the Year JaKarr Sampson finished with three points all courtesy of one made 3-pointer. He finished the day 1-8 from the field in 23 minutes played.

Harrison led the team in scoring with 29 points, while freshman guard Rysheed added 16 points in his college debut. Senior forward Orlando Sanchez completed his long-awaited unveiling with nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks.

Guard Nefi Perdomo led the Gators with 23 points.

The Johnnies took 12 3-point attempts in the first half, compared to seven in the second. They only scored 10 points in the paint before the break.

“I think we were just settling at first,” Harrison said. “We took a lot of threes at the beginning. Once we figured out that we can go by these guys, we did that and we made it a paint game after that.”

Junior Sir’Dominic Pointer, who finished with 11 points, six rebounds and four steals, noted the defensive breakdowns that were prevalent throughout the game.

“We played horrible defense tonight,” Pointer said. “They got too many easy shots, open shots, we can’t let that happen.

The nation’s leading shotblocker, sophomore Chris Obekpa, sat out the contest as part of his exhibition suspension due to a University policy violation. Harrison didn’t see that as a reason for the defensive lapses.

“We can’t blame anything on Chris,” Harrison said. “Obviously, he helps, he leads the country in shot blocks, but other people have to step up.”

The Johnnies have one more exhibition on Monday against Humboldt State before opening the regular season Friday against No. 20 Wisconsin. While that will be the first test for the Red Storm this year, Lavin is setting his sights on January and February for the full development of his team.

“Coaches are smart enough and the media is smart enough to know we’ve got a lot of moving parts, a lot of question marks in terms of will we gel come March,” Lavin said. “If we do, I think we can be really special. If we don’t, then we’ll be in the NIT. It’s not that complicated.”