Tough love: D'Angelo Harrison comes alive in opener after missing exhibition

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Harrison led the Johnnies to a big 77-74 win over Detroit in the season opener. But his benching may have been the wake up call that sparked his performance.

Before Tuesday's game against Detroit, sophomore guard D`Angelo Harrison was stuck in Steve Lavin's proverbial doghouse. Tagged as the "leader" all offseason, Harrison was benched for last Tuesday's exhibition win over Concordia, his role with the team seemingly swirling downward because of practice-floor conflict.

But, boy, a week can make all the difference. Harrison scored a game-high 22 points in the Johnnies' 77-74 victory over the Detroit Titans, energizing a second half comeback that saved his Red Storm from a season-opening upset loss.

Harrison didn't start in the opener, but came off the bench to play 29 minutes. His 15 second half points and slew of forced turnovers keyed by his defense at the top of the arc allowed Lavin's young St. John's team to overcome an 8-point halftime deficit, which got to as large as 10 early in the second frame.

Detroit built a lead as Harrison struggled - missing shots, lagging on defense - and relinquished it when Harrison surged.

"D'Angelo is a big shot-taker and a big shot-maker," teammate Phil Greene said of Harrison after Tuesday's win. "When I know he's on my side, it just makes my job easier. We flow better as a team when he's playing well."

After missing a handful of shots and committing two early fouls, how was Harrison able to rise up for one of his brightest performances in a Red Storm uniform?

"We know how to fight. We're a grinding team, whether we're ahead or we're down," Harrison said, not as quick to give himself a pat on the back. He kept alluding to his team's toughness and other improvements needed for the squad to improve. "But we need to rebound way better and take care of the ball in late-game situations."

And that's what the Red Storm did down the stretch to stifle Detroit. Attentive rebounding and timely control are how they were able to come back, and Harrison's play is what made it all possible.

From the day that Moe Harkless announced his decision to enter the NBA Draft, all eyes have been on Harrison. St. John's will go as he goes. He was picked by the coaches to the Big East's preseason Second Team.

But coaches know that anointing a player as a leader, and having that player actually lead are two different things. Harrison is known to be a combative player on the court - filled with fight. Sometimes it galvanizes the team. Sometimes, it can hurt the team.

Hence, the tough love and the public embarrassment to help Harrison realize the consequences of unchecked emotion.

"From the time we sat D'Angelo and took away his starting spot, he's been outstanding," Lavin mentioned. "To this point, he's really responded to the tough love."

Lavin knows that holding Harrison to a higher standard will help him develop into his role as the team's leader. Sometimes a player needs an extra push to stay in line. That's what the staff has provided, and it's been the right move.

"You search for any technique that you can. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It's like parenting - you give it your best shot and hope that the message is received," Lavin continued. "Sometimes we have to remind our kids that we're on their side."

St. John's is thrilled that D'Angelo Harrison is on their side.

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