The Huskies let a 23-point second-half lead slip to 11 before finally beating the Red Storm 83-69 in the second game of Calhoun's three-game NCAA suspension for recruiting violations.
Shabazz Napier had 17 points and nine assists to lead the Huskies. Freshman Andre Drummond added 16 points and 11 rebounds and Jeremy Lamb chipped in with 15 points as UConn (12-1, 2-0 Big East) won its seventh straight game.
"Our problem is we look at the score, we see we're up and we start playing the score," Napier said. "I told the guys we can't do that. I don't like how selfish we are at times. But, we'll get everything together."
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D'Angelo Harrison had 17 points, and fellow freshman Moe Harkless and junior God'sgift Achiuwa each added 16 for St. John's (7-6, 1-1), which lost for the first time in four games.
St. John's also was without its head coach as Steve Lavin continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery in October. Lavin, who coached four games this season, missed his seventh consecutive game. There is no timetable for his return, thought he continues to attend practice and handle recruiting duties.
But Harkless said he doesn't want to hear excuses for the loss, even on a team that starts four freshmen.
"I don't like it when people say that we're young and that's the reason why," he said. "Because it doesn't matter about that, it matters about your heart. We just didn't come out hitting shots."
A steal and dunk by freshman Ryan Boatright gave UConn a 13-4 lead. The Huskies, who came in averaging six 3-pointers per game, had five in the first 14 minutes. They finished nine of 16 for the game.
UConn held St. John's to 25 percent shooting in the first half and 36 percent for the game. St. John's, which came in hitting just 28 percent of its 3-point shots, made just four of 24 and was 1 of 13 in falling behind 38-25 at halftime.
The Huskies opened the second half with two dunks by Drummond on alley-oop passes.
"I would like to see them do it about 15 more times, and I would like to see Andre get in position to do it 15 more times," said associate head coach George Blaney, who coached in Calhoun's absence. "He's so effortless with how he can rise up and catch it. He doesn't miss anything when his hands are around it."
The Huskies hit their first six shots of the second half, including a 3-pointer by Lamb who was fouled and also made the free throw, to give the Huskies a 52-35 lead.
Drummond's driving floater put UConn up 65-44 midway through the second half and Huskies led by as many as 23 points before St. John's made a final run, cutting the UConn lead to 72-61 with 2:48 remaining on a dunk by Sir'Dominic Pointer.
But Napier closed out the game by hurdling over a fallen Amir Garrett for a layup to make it 79-64 with a minute left.
"As usual, we kind of let them back in as we were up," Drummond said. "We're working on it and we're going to get it and we're going to get that killer instinct that we're looking for."
Connecticut is 2-0 to start a Big East season for the first time since 2003-04, when the Huskies won their second of three national titles.
Calhoun, who was suspended for three conference games by the NCAA for failing to create an atmosphere of compliance within the program, will sit out Tuesday's game at Seton Hall before returning to the sidelines at Rutgers next Saturday.
"We definitely want to get 3 and 0 for him and for ourselves," Lamb said. "We want to win just as bad as he do. I know it's hard for him watching. We're still running coach Calhoun's system. One more game and we'll be good."
Harkless, a former UConn recruit who was coming off a Big East freshman debut-record 32 points in a win over Providence last week, hit just two of his first seven shots.
"I think that I should have did a better job of in the end trying to take over the game," he said. "I didn't assert myself as much as I should have."
The Red Storm had won the last two meetings with UConn, in the regular season last year and in the 2010 Big East tournament. But the Huskies have won 10 of the last 11 against the Red Storm in the regular season, including eight straight at home.
The game is the first in a tough stretch for St. John's which also faces No. 4 Louisville, No. 14 Marquette and No. 12 Georgetown in the first half of January.