The Garden faithful has been waiting for a performance like this.
The St. John's Red Storm (9-11, 3-6) handled the West Virginia Mountaineers (15-6, 5-3) on Wednesday night, 78-62, in a game where Bob Huggins' team never led. With the victory, the Johnnies snap a 4-game losing streak that was beginning to affect the squad's confidence.
But, after beating one of the better teams in the Big East, that confidence is on its way back. Behind crisp half-court play, competitive rebounding, and some adequate free-throw shooting, St. John's was able to leave some of its recurring weaknesses in the rear-view mirror.
Moe Harkless led the Red Storm with 23 points, while gathering 13 rebounds for yet another double-double performance. D`Angelo Harrison (19 points), Amir Garrett, and Phil Greene (11 points each) also joined the double-figure party.
Kevin Jones, one of three New York natives for the Mountaineers, led all scorers with 23 points on 11-20 shooting.
Some post-game quotes and takeaways, below the fold.
St. John's obtained arguably its best victory of the season on Wednesday night. They managed to force West Virginia into some uncomfortable situations, while subsequently cleaning up some facets of their own game.
"We had three goals for tonight," Mike Dunlap said afterwards. "We wanted to stay level on the boards, keep running in transition, and adjust to get the feel of the game."
Dunlap and the rest of his staff have to be pleased with the results. For most of the night, St. John's was actually out-rebounding West Virginia. Though the Mountaineers ultimately won that battle by a margin of four, the performance on the boards was exceptionally improved from the losses to Georgetown, USF, and Villanova.
St. John's, ever since Lavin took over the helm last season, flourishes most when they get out running in transition. The addition of Amir Garrett and the development of Phil Greene and Sir'Dominic Pointer have allowed this team to do just that.
Finally, the Red Storm was able to adjust to the changing feel of the game as West Virginia fired with a spurt in the final minutes.
"Tonight was good because we closed out a team that had a late spurt," mentioned Harkless. "We keep on getting better each and every day."
We'll close with some takeaways from this evening's convincing win over West Virginia:
Crash the boards, young men! After multiple games where St. John's was out-rebounded by their opponent by double-digits, the Red Storm crashed the boards. They pulled down 40 of West Virginia's misses. God`sgift Achiuwa, who one had a single rebound in Saturday's loss to Villanova, collected seven. Harkless' 13 and Garrett's 7 were also a huge factor in the team's ability to level the playing field. West Virginia's 22 offensive rebounds reminds us that the defensive boards still continue to be a liability.
Amir Garrett continues to grow. Well, not literally. But his development and integration into the Johnnies' system seems to move quicker every game. Not only did Garrett reach double figures and obtain his career high (11 points), but it becomes increasingly evident that his natural talents are far greater than St. John's fans saw in his first few games with the team. As we discussed earlier this week, Garrett has a keen ability to use his active defensive hands to cause havoc, which allows him to get out in transition.
Harrison's swagger is contagious. We all know D'Angelo is a confident young man who is willing to utilize his talents without much fear. Tonight, St. John's looked like a team of D'Angelo Harrisons. They drove to the basket and drew contact. They dove for loose balls and drew offensive fouls. The young Johnnies are beginning to look like a team possessed.
Phil Greene is starting to look like a true point guard. The freshman guard out of Chicago came to St. John's in hopes of developing as an off-the-ball player with a jump shot. After Nurideen Lindsey transferred, Greene found himself in a role that he had rarely seen himself in before. Now, with more experience handling the ball and running an offense, Phil is starting to look comfortable. He is balancing his duties as a distributor with a nice complementary offensive aggression. That interior slashing is starting to look like Dwight Hardy. There, I said it.
St. John's will travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to take on the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday afternoon. Will they give us an encore?