Slow out of the gate

The St. John’s men’s basketball team came roaring back from a 15-point deficit twice over the weekend at the Barclays Center Classic Brooklyn. It came out of the tournament 1-1, but saw the continuation of a trend of slow starts that dates back to the Red Storm’s season opener against Wisconsin.

The Red Storm have played seven games thus far and have trailed at halftime in four of them. At the Barclays Center, the Johnnies were down seven against both Georgia Tech and Penn State at the break.

While the team has trailed at halftime only slightly more than 50 percent of the time, it hasn’t broken away from opponents until late in the second half. After trailing against Bucknell at Carnesecca, St. John’s was down by as many as nine points in the second half before taking an eight-point lead that became a four-point victory.

“It’s just a bad habit we’ve got,” sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson said, referring to the slow starts at the Barclays Center. “[We] just don’t come out with enough energy, enough fight. We just have to come out with a different mindset, a different attitude. We have to come out like we’re down already.”

Head coach Steve Lavin and his players said strong defense is the key to helping them play well offensively. The plan relies on rebounding and getting transition baskets.

“If your defense is solid, then it creates better field position for your offense so you’re more consistently able to put up points,” Lavin said using a football analogy. “And it’s the same in basketball: stops and shutouts are going to lead to those run-outs.”

Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison said preventing the need for a comeback starts with executing from the tip. That much was evident from Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, when the Johnnies fell behind by 15 with 8:45 left in the first.

“Of course we were frustrated, but you know, this team has a way of fighting back, but we just have to get it together in the beginning, can’t be down 15 points,” Harrison said. “If we take care of that, it’s a whole other kind of ballgame. We don’t have to fight all the way back, we can just take the lead earlier and sustain the lead.”

With a non-conference game against No. 4 Syracuse and the Big East schedule looming in the coming months, slow starts could become harder to come back from than against some of the mid-major opponents St. John’s faced in the first four weeks of the season. Lavin said that’s more of an issue every college coach deals with, especially at this stage of the year.

“When you get off to a big lead and you’re up 15 nothing, the concern is giving those leads up,” he said. “I’m sure [Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory] was pleased with his fast start, but disappointed probably with his inability to sustain the lead. There in lies sports.”

“If we get a lead I’m interested in sustaining the lead and when we fall behind I’m concerned about that pattern of falling behind, but I think every coach is and that’s why you have to keep practicing, Lavin added.

“But you are dealing with 18-22 year olds, so there is a likeliness that this is going to be the same way 100 years from now,” he said.