For the second time this season, St. John's didn't have its head coach on the sideline. And, for the second time, the young Johnnies coped quite nicely.
St. John's defeated the St. Francis (NY) Terriers, 63-48, on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena. Despite Steve Lavin's somewhat surprising absence, the Red Storm was able to overpower its inter-borough opponent. The discrepancy in talent was the story on this night.
More below the fold.
Following two difficult losses to Arizona and to Texas A&M last week at the Garden, St. John's had two pregame objectives for its clash with St. Francis. Lavin's game plan was built around limiting the Terriers' looks along the perimeter and getting God'sGift Achiuwa more touches on the blocks.
Objective #1, check. Objective #2, incomplete.
The Johnnies gave St. Francis a man-to-man look for most of the game, as expected. Glenn Braica's team is known for its tendency to launch from deep and Lavin's patented match-up zone only would have promoted that strength. St. John's was able to extend defensively and hold the Terriers to 21.7% (5-23) from downtown.
"Defensively, you look at field goal percentage regardless of who you're playing," associate head coach Mike Dunlap mentioned afterwards. "30% is a healthy effort. [St. Francis] certainly has shooters, so we covered that."
Coach Lavin also reiterated on Monday afternoon the importance of Achiuwa's participation in the offense. Calling for his guards to feed the 6'9" forward the ball more, Lavin mentioned that Gift's offense is going to come around.
Tuesday wasn't the night.
Achiuwa, who scored 2 points and pulled down 7 rebounds in 22 minutes against St. Francis, continued his struggles from the two prior games. Although he seemed to be running the floor exceptionally well early, Gift was unable to become an offensive factor.
"Obviously we feel that he can play better, and he will," Dunlap stated. "We're well-balanced. I'm not so sure it's what he's not doing, but rather that others are excelling around him."
It will be interesting to see if Achiuwa is able to turn things around on Saturday when St. John's hosts Northeastern. Things aren't going to get much easier for him in the coming games as he'll see much bigger front lines in Kentucky and Detroit.
The offensive spark for St. John's on Tuesday night was D'Angelo Harrison. Not part of the starting lineup for the first time in his young career, Harrison came out of the gate with three 3-pointers in the first half. He was also able to score off the dribble, which will only make his jumper that much more of a threat.
"My teammates just did a good job of finding me," Harrison said. "I was doing my cuts and knocking down the open shots."
Along with Harkless, who is certainly becoming the Red Storm's most consistent option, Sir'Dominic Pointer had an excellent game. In 26 minutes, Pointer continued to be a defensive force and contributed 10 points. Dunlap even called him the "wild card" of the team.
St. John's once again struggled from the free throw line, which is unfortunately becoming a trend. The Johnnies were 9-19 (47.4%) from the charity stripe. Though it didn't hurt them in this game, they do already know first-hand how debilitating it can be.
Stefan Perunicic led the way for the Terriers with 13 points.
All in all, this was an impressive showing from St. John's. Proving again that the inconsistent presence (or lack thereof) of their head coach does not bother them, the Johnnies were able to recover nicely with a comfortable victory.
The Red Storm welcome Northeastern on Saturday for one last tune-up before they travel to Rupp Arena next week.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!