What a difference three days and a lesser opponent can make. Last Sunday the St. John's Red Storm, despite a spirited rally in the second half, looked out of sorts against No. 2 Syracuse. But Wednesday night in Queens, against a distinctly not-Syracuse San Francisco Dons team, the Red Storm exercised its demons, winning 81-57 win.
And the game may have been won for St. John's even before it started, according to coach Steve Lavin.
"One at a time each player addressed the team during our pre game talk. They shared individual key points of emphasis. As a coach it’s important to encourage leadership and have the kids take ownership in the process. Engagement in the building process is key to fueling our objectives."
Possibly refocused and re-energized, junior D'Angelo Harrison scored a game high 18 points while backcourt teammate Rysheed Jordan added 10, the freshman's second straight game recording double figure points. But while the duo of Harrison, who shot 5 of 8 from the field, and Jordan playing well is a great sign for Lavin, an even better suggestion his team is over the heartbreaking loss to the Orange is how the big men played.
The Red Storm (7-3) grabbed 35 boards compared to the Dons 24; six Johnnies recording 3 or more boards. Leading the way for St. John's in that department was center Chris Obekpa, who collected 7 boards, while swatting 4 shots. The only real negative for Lavin is that forward JaKarr Sampson surprisingly only grabbed 2 rebounds -- but the sophomore did score 14 points on 7 of 11 shooting.
All good numbers; all expected numbers, too, as San Francisco (6-5) only deployed one player 6-foot-9 or taller. But after the way Sunday's loss went -- with St. John's missing crucial free throws and missing a major opportunity for a season-building win -- the Dons are exactly what the psychologist ordered.
All 13 members of the Red Storm roster got some run, and 4 of the starting 5 actually reached double figures in scoring. And while the Johnnies still struggled from 3-point land, making 4 of 11, they did fair much better from inside the arc. As a team St. John's shot 67.9 percent from the field. It seemed as though anything with-in 15 was automatic.
That hot shooting started early, and a 17-7 run by the Red storm about mid-way through the first half that all but ended the game.
Of course, as has been the case so far this early season for St. John's, wins usually come from its defensive efforts. And against San Francisco was no different for the Red Storm. Besides being outrebounded, the Dons also were forced into committing 21 turnovers -- a certain recipe for defeat against the aggressive Johnnies.
For the Dons, Mark Tollefson led the scoring with 14 points while Kruize Pinkins contributed 12 (and one of the coolest names, ever).
While beating the likes of a barely-above-.500 team won't truly cleanse the soul, a tip-to-buzzer win is a positive step forward for Lavin's boys.
"The positive takeaways from tonight's game were the good starts in both halves. I was happy with the final score, but I think we could have improved on the last five minutes of the first half and the last five minutes of the second half. I liked our press. I think our pressure on the ball was better than it's been at any point this year."
Up next for the Red Storm is Youngstown State Saturday in Queens. Yet another therapeutic opportunity for Lavin and his Red Storm before Big East season officially opens.