Lawrence leads in Holiday Festival laugher

Eugene Lawrence did everything a coach can ask of his point guard.


The sophomore guard was in total control of himself and his team. He scored 12 points and dished out eight assists, leading the Red Storm to a 63-39 win over Columbia in the semifinals of the Panasonic Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night.


“It was the best game he’s played since he’s been here,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “He ran the team. He knew when to take shots, when not to, when to get the ball to the

right people.”


It was also St. John’s most complete and impressive win of the season.


The Johnnies shot 48 percent from the field. They had 20 assists on 24 field goals and held Columbia to 27-percent shooting for the game.


“We realized that if we controlled every aspect of the game then we’ll come out with a victory,” said Lawrence, who shot 4-of-5 from the field.


St. John’s (6-4) played without star guard Daryll Hill for the third time this season. He will miss both Holiday Festival games because of a knee injury. But the team’s leading scorer sat and watched Lawrence help Anthony Mason Jr. make up for his absence. The freshman scored a career-high 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting √¢?” 3-of-6 from behind the arc. Lawrence also connected with Mason for a two-handed alley-oop slam that capped a 13-0 St. John’s run with 15:06 to go in the first half.


Columbia never recovered.


“They haven’t shot a high percentage other than tonight,” Columbia coach Joe Jones said. “Tonight they made some of those shots they had been missing,”


The Lions, whose only lead was at 2-0, could only cut the St. John’s advantage to 13 with 2:04 left in the first half on a free throw by Justin Armstrong. He and John Baumann led Columbia (6-4) with just eight points each. The Red Storm increased its lead to as much as 26 in the second half.


“We struggled to make passes.” Jones said. “We were very stagnant offensively, but I think that had a lot to do with their pressure. Their quickness gave us problems.”


St. John’s starting front court did not.


Forward Lamont Hamilton scored 11 points, but shot just 4-of-11 from the field and 3-of-7 from the free throw line. Aaron Spears scored just four points and played just 13 minutes because of foul trouble. That will have to change if St. John’s is going to successfully defend its Holiday Festival title against UMass tonight.


The Minutemen are coming off an impressive 66-49 win over St. Peter’s in which they blocked 16 Peacock shots. All of the team’s starters are 6-foot-5 or over.


“They’re a huge team,” Roberts said. “We’re going to have to use our speed and try to pressure them and pressure their guards.”