Coming off a season-opening loss to then-No. 20 Wisconsin last week, the St. John’s men’s basketball team knew it had to get in the win column. That would hardly be a guarantee without an emphasis on the deficiencies exhibited last week – mainly defense and 3-point shooting.
It got a little of one and none of the other.
St. John’s defeated Wagner 73-57 after leading wire-to-wire, yet failing to hit a shot from beyond the arc at Carnesecca Arena Friday.
At the same time, the Red Storm (1-1) held the Seahawks (1-2) to 35.5 percent from the field and forced 15 turnovers – an improvement on last week’s defensive performance.
“I thought we were effective with moving the feet without fouling and using our speed, our length and our quickness to disrupt what Wagner was trying to do,” head coach Steve Lavin said.
Though the Johnnies never relinquished a lead, the game had its tighter moments. The Seahawks drew within six with 3:45 left in the second half after the Red Storm built up as much as an 18-point lead in the first 20 minutes.
Wagner failed to hit the 3-point shot with any consistency, going 7 of 23 from behind the arc in the first half. St. John’s fared worse, failing to hit any in 10 attempts. The Johnnies only attempted two from behind the arc in the second half, but it was less a concerted effort to curtail the shot as a different game plan, sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson said.
“I guess it was just in the flow of the game. The second half we came out and we just wanted to attack the paint,” Sampson said. “We just came out with a different mindset.”
Lavin said that while he isn’t opposed to the 3-pointer, his team is better suited to attack the paint.
“I wish we took less of them,” Lavin said, referring to what he saw as some poorly placed shots early. “I think we’re a better team when we’re fueling our offensive attack through our defense.
Sophomore guard Max Hooper, who specializes in shooting, saw less than a minute of action and senior shooting guard Marco Bourgault didn’t see the floor because Lavin chose to go with a quicker group, Lavin said.
“I was concerned about the speed off the dribble of Wagner and so we went with a faster, quicker, more experienced team for the majority of the game,” he said.
A big difference between the team’s opener against Wisconsin and the home opener was the amount of turnovers. St. John’s gave up the ball twice in the first half versus 10 times in the first 20 minutes against the Badgers – which was one more than the total against the Seahawks.
D’Angelo Harrison led all scorers with 25 points. JaKarr Sampson added 13 and Pointer 10. Senior forward Orlando Sanchez contributed eight points and eight rebounds.
Freshman guard Rysheed Jordan didn’t score a point after contributing six in his first college game. Sampson, who experienced similar struggles at the start of his debut season last year, chalked it up to self-induced pressure.
“He’s in a rough stage right now, but he’s the type of player that’s got high expectations for himself, so maybe he just needs to take a deep breath and relax,” Sampson said. “I feel like I’m the same way. I put so much pressure on myself that sometimes that can have a negative effect on my game.”
Guard Latif Rivers led Wagner with 18 points, while guard Jay Harris followed him up with 14 of his own.