JAMAICA, N.Y. – The first half of Monday night’s opener against William & Mary certainly wasn’t what was envisioned with the talk of a new era in St. John’s basketball.
Steve Lavin at home recovering from prostate surgery; three top recruits ineligible for the start of the season; and a nine-point deficit to William & Mary in front of a lackluster crowd at Carnesecca Arena.
The second half, though, was the future – and present – at St. John’s. Overwhelming defensive pressure, effective transition offense and a youthful energy that has been missing from the Red Storm program for most of the past decade. Moreover, the 4500 fans in the building woke up and made it tough for William & Mary.
With four players scoring in double-figures, St. John’s dominated the second half en route to a 74-59 win over the Tribe. A 22-5 run after W&M scored to open the stanza put the Red Storm on top, with constant turnovers from the Tribe guards putting the game out of reach.
“The way we played in the second half is the way St. John’s plays,” freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison said.
Outside of 3-point shooting, St. John’s handled William & Mary in nearly all facets of the game. The Red Storm outscored the Tribe 44-10 in the paint, 28-0 off turnovers, 9-2 on second-chance opportunities and 16-0 in fast-break points. They forced 21 William & Mary turnovers and shot nearly 68 percent from the field in the second half.
St. John’s used seven players in the game, six of them newcomers and four of them playing college basketball for the first time. Despite the lack of depth, the Red Storm pressed throughout the game, drifting back into an active and aggressive 2-3 zone when William & Mary broke the full-court pressure.
Nurideen Lindsey (pictured) led the way with 19 points, the majority coming off steals and deflections that led to transition baskets at the other end. The athleticism and length of St. John’s simply wore down William & Mary in the second half.
“When the guys came out, we were a little tight,” Lindsey said. “We didn’t come out ready to play. We knew we had to turn it up a notch; we got more intense into the game. During halftime, we got together collectively and we understood that, defensively, that’s what we had to do.”
God’s Gift Achiuwa, the famously-named junior college transfer, went for 17 points and nine rebounds. More importantly, though, he stayed out of foul trouble and played 38 minutes. Moe Harkless had 17 points and eight rebounds.
During the first half, it seemed like St. John’s was looking for someone to take the reins in the huddle and be a leader. Harrison took on that role in the second half, becoming the emotional and vocal general the Red Storm needed. Once the intensity was there, talent simply took over.
“You can say it brought us together,” Harrison said. “Every game is an experience for us.”
“We were just playing basketball out there,” Harkless added. “I couldn’t really predict how the first game would go, but it’s definitely a great feeling.”
When Harkless first committed to St. John’s in August of 2010, no one knew what to expect. What followed was a whirlwind of commitments from across the country, both high school and junior college. There were three casualties along the way – Amir Garrett, JaKarr Sampson, Norvel Pelle – but the new faces of St. John’s basketball were still unknown to most people.
Tonight might have been the culmination of all the hype and anticipation of the last 15 months – or are we still waiting for the page to turn in Red Storm basketball lore? Lavin still hasn't returned and at least two recruits are waiting to be cleared.
This wasn’t Steve Lavin coaching Norm Roberts’ players. Heck, it wasn’t even Steve Lavin coaching Steve Lavin’s players.
But make no mistake; this is a new era in St. John’s basketball – even if it’s not how everyone pictured it.
Photo: US Presswire