In preparation for Friday's Barclays Center clash with Penn State, you would have thought St. John's face-off with the Big South Conference's Longwood, who lost to Penn State by 36 on Sunday, would be a mere warm-up.
St. John's (4-1) ultimately defeated the Longwood Lancers (2-4), 65-47, at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday night. But, as in each of the Johnnies' four home games in Queens thus far this season, the game remained in doubt until the final minutes.
Due to Steve Lavin's trip to Kansas City over the weekend to honor Gene Keady's induction into the College Basketball Hall of Fame, the Red Storm didn't practice on either Saturday or Sunday. After an up-and-down offensive performance against Longwood in which Lavin's squad shot 37% from the field and converted just 3 of its 19 three-point attempts, it seemed the Johnnies could have used that time for some additional reps.
"This was a disjointed game that lacked any offensive rhythm," Lavin said. "There were some bright spots defensively, but we never found a flow."
D`Angelo Harrison scored 18 points, 13 of which came in the second half to lead St. John's. SIr`Dominic Pointer added 11 points and Phil Greene contributed 8 points in the win.
This was the type of game that St. John's could use a quick jump start in the early going. Instead, the Johnnies had immediate trouble penetrating Longwood's zone defense and allowed the Lancers to get out to a 7-0 advantage in the first four minutes.
St. John's didn't even get on the board with points until a Chris Obekpa dunk 6:10 into the game. After a quick 9-2 run, the Red Storm soon reverted back to stagnation offensively.
The Johnnies shot a weak 33% (10-30) from the field, including an even weaker 1-9 (9%) from beyond the arc, before halftime. They endured two scoreless droughts of more than four minutes during the first 20 minutes, yet still led 27-23 at intermission.
Early in the second half, the inferior Longwood Lancers remained gritty, keeping St. John's within reach. The Red Storm's sloppiness on the offensive side of the ball continued, but Lavin's team was much improved defensively from its last game on Friday.
Despite allowing Longwood to stay within single digit points for most of the second half, St. John's was finally able to pull away for its fourth victory of the season. Longwood shot 34% on the night, and was led by Jeylani Dublin who had 16 points.
Rysheed Jordan entered the game at the 10:53 mark of the first half, his first appearance since missing one game for his suspension for a violation of team rules. Jordan ended the game with 8 points off the bench in 17 minutes.
"You can't keep a good player down too long," Sampson said of Jordan.
"[Rysheed] had a good practice yesterday," Harrison said. "He's a freshman and he has a lot to learn. But it's good that he has me, JaKarr and Dom around to help him."
A big reason why St. John's was unable to find any cohesiveness in the halfcourt offense was because of Sampson's off-night. Sampson scored just 3 points on 1-8 shooting, his lowest scoring total since he had 2 points in his Big East debut against Villanova a season ago.
"We didn't make shots tonight, but this is stuff we can control," Harrison said. "We'll get better. This is nothing we can't control."
In fact, the Red Storm's three best scorers thus far this season - Harrison, Sampson and Greene - combined to shoot 8-35 on Tuesday, a recipe that Lavin's team will not be able to afford come conference play.
"It's good to win a game when your top performers don't have the hot hand," Lavin said. "This is a game that we probably lose last year or the year before.
"This game felt like two football teams kicking field goals in the snow," Lavin continued. "But even though it was ugly, we still got the W."
St. John's blocked 15 shots for the game, equaling the team record that was set against Monmouth on Friday.
The Johnnies will be back in action on Friday night at 7 pm at Barclays Center, when they meet the Penn State Nittany Lions.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- St. John's vs Longwood: Game Preview (Barclays Classic)
- Report: Rysheed Jordan practices, expected to return from suspension Tuesday night
- Phil Greene IV named to Big East weekly honor roll
- St. John's selected for 2015 Maui Invitational, along with college basketball elites Kansas, Indiana, UCLA and more
- Episode 9: a trip to the therapist's couch