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Johnnies survive late scare, hold off Fordham 56-50

Box score

It took 25 days, but St. John's is finally back in the win column.

The Red Storm defeated the Fordham Rams on Saturday afternoon, 56-50, in a game that can really be defined by one six and a half minute stretch. The Johnnies held on by the skin of its teeth in the waning minutes, thanks to an 18-0 outburst.

In the time not between the 3:29 mark in the first half and 16:55 of the second (33:26 in total, to be exact), Fordham actually outscored St. John's by 12 points. The youthful Red Storm, once again guided by associate head coach Mike Dunlap, wrapped a rather short stretch of dominant basketball around the halftime intermission and sandwiched it with offensive stagnancy.

In the squad's first contest without Nurideen Lindsey, four Johnnies were forced to play the entire ballgame. Moe Harkless (13 points) and D'Angelo Harrison (15 points) set the pace offensively.

More, below the fold.

The MSG Holiday Festival is a long-running tradition of New York City college basketball. It was only fitting that, on this day, two of the five boroughs' most heralded institutions of higher learning would meet at the mecca of the city's game.

They certainly didn't disappoint. But that may depend on what you're looking for.

On Saturday, St. John's and Fordham provided fans with the newest installment to a head-to-head series headlined by tremendous history. The folks who came out to the Garden and watched at home on television were treated to the 83rd battle between the two programs.

If you dig through the previous 82 meetings, you may find at least a few games of the much prettier persuasion. In fact, one can seriously doubt that James Naismith drew it all up like this.

Between opening tip and the final buzzer, the two teams combined for 85 missed field goal attempts (32 from long range) and 28 turnovers. The percentage sheet isn't exactly a 1985 National Championship duplicate.

"Defensively, it was a real positive to hold [Fordham] to that kind of field goal percentage," Dunlap mentioned afterwards. The Rams shot 29.7%.

Despite some of the offensive inefficiencies, St. John's did have five players score 8 points or more. If it weren't for a 4-minute breather for Sir'Dominic Pointer, provided by Malik Stith, that quintet would have stayed untouched for the whole game. St. John's, who for the time being is left with just seven scholarship players, must make due with a thin roster and just about no depth.

"It's definitely tough, especially in college, because it's intense every play," Harkless said. "But we showed a lot of toughness and just kept going."

Lindsey's decision to transfer out of the school leaves the Red Storm with a limited amount of options. The roster was depleted even before he left. The team didn't seem to miss Lindsey on Saturday, but they will.

On the Fordham side of things, a lot of credit can be given to a team that fought until the end. A program that has unfortunately been defined by losing in recent years definitely gave the Garden the feeling that they believed they could beat St. John's.

A Red Storm lead that was at 16 early in the second half was cut to just 3 in the final two minutes. The Rams had the ball with an opportunity to tie, but squandered its best chance with a deflating shot clock violation. The Johnnies got the stop it needed and sealed it with a few conversions at the line.

Branden Frazier led Tom Pecora's squad with 17 points while shooting 7-14 from the field. Chris Gaston, the Rams season leading scorer, was Frazier's only other teammate in double figures.

The most important free throw was hit by Phil Greene, which extended the difference to two possessions in the final seconds. Greene, who never saw the bench Saturday, has been thrown into responsibilities that no one anticipated as recently as last week.

"By necessity, [Phil's evolution] has to be rapid fire," Dunlap remarked. "Back in Chicago he played a lot of two. So learning how to be the front door will take some time. He's understated, but he's very intelligent."

According to both Harkless and teammate D'Angelo Harrison, Greene's new role is already breaking him out of his shell. Both alluded to how the Red Storm point guard was noticeably more vocal on the court Saturday than he has been all season.

Both teams are incredibly young and have very limited experience. With that said, you can see noteworthy potential on both sides which will undoubtedly endure on-going development throughout the season until March.

Fordham upset St. John's last year at Rose Hill. This time around, the Red Storm escaped with a win. Tom Pecora wants this series to become an annual occurrence. Who can blame him?

St. John's will be back in action at Carnesecca Arena this Wednesday, December 21st, when they will host the Great West's Texas Pan-American Broncs.

If you're planning to come out to Queens for the game, make sure to go closet digging for the ugliest holiday sweater you can find. We've all had our moments of fashionable ineptitude.

On behalf of the Rumble team, I wish you and yours an enjoyable and safe holiday!

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