Columbia came into the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival Saturday at the Barclays Center as a team St. John’s couldn’t take lightly.
Although the Lions have beaten the teams they’re supposed to such as UMass-Lowell and FDU, they suffered close losses to the likes of Manhattan, Michigan State, and Elon. This time around against St. John’s, Columbia actually managed to take the lead with under nine minutes left in the game. But the Red Storm played just enough defense down the stretch to avoid what would’ve been a tough loss heading into Big East Conference play Tuesday against Xavier.
D’Angelo Harrison scored 15 points as St. John’s won the opening game of the Festival, 65-59. Orlando Sanchez added 12 points and nine rebounds for the Johnnies.
"Our maturity was on display at the end of this game," St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin said after the game. "Last year and the year before, this was the type of game we’d lose. The team showed poise and purpose to go on a run of their own."
Columbia showed its own poise and fought and fought and fought in the second half after also playing it close against St. John’s in the first half. The Lions used a 13-0 run in the second half to get within one with 9:40 left in the game.
Alex Rosenberg eventually gave Columbia a 51-50 lead when he hit a hook shot in the lane while getting fouled on the play. He hit the free throw to give the Lions their only advantage of the game.
Sanchez responded with a layup to put St. John’s back up 52-51 with 6:45 left. From there, the Johnnies slowly built their lead again.
JaKaar Sampson had a steal and converted that to a layup to make it 55-51 with 5:09 left. Harrison then converted a layup for a 57-51 advantage.
Columbia, however, didn’t back down.
Meiko Lyles hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 60-56 with a minute left. But Sir Dominic Pointer then sealed the game with a 3-point play with 36 seconds left to give St. John’s a 63-56 lead.
Grant Mullins, who scored a game-high 17 points, almost beat St. John’s himself and excelled during that 13-0 stretch.
Mullins scored five straight points on a 3-pointer and layup to get Columbia within three points, 48-45, with 9:57 left in the game. Mao Lo’s layup about a minute later cut the St. John’s lead to one before Orlando Sanchez ended the run with a layup.
Like they have many times already this season, St. John’s struggled in the first half but had a nice spurt before halftime to give them a 37-30 lead heading to the locker room. To Columbia's credit, it did do a good job with the 2-3 zone and using the backdoor cut on St. John's.
Mullins tied the game at 28 with 4:48 left in the half just minutes after completing what turned out to be a five-point play in Columbia’s favor. His first 3 of the game cut St. John’s lead to 26-23 two minutes earlier. The Johnnies’ bench was immediately called for a technical foul after the bucket and Mullins made both free throws.
But St. John’s responded well after that sequence. They used a 9-2 run led by Harrison to take a 37-30 lead into the half. Harrison quickly scored six points during span. St. John’s also stepped up their defense and even managed to force a shot clock violation on Columbia.
"All these experience are great because you learn from them as you get ready for conference play," Lavin said. "Our guys have seen there is balance [on the team] and different guys can step up."
The Lions had four players who entered Saturday’s game shooting 38% or better from beyond the arc and it was the 3 that kept the game close in the first half. They shot 32% (9-for-28) in the first half, but were 4-for-9 (44%) from downtown. Columbia finished the game shooting 50% (9-for-18) from 3 for the game.
St. John’s freshman Rysheed Jordan returned to the the starting lineup after missing one game to attend to his sick mother in Philadelphia. Jordan was back at his customary point guard spot to start the game. He sprained his ankle in practice on Friday, but didn’t have any problems in the first half.
Jordan converted his first three shot attempts, including a nice runner he banked off the glass that gave St. John’s a 24-16 lead. He also looked to get his teammates involved early.
Jordan had one sequence early where he stole the ball from a Columbia player at the top of the key, sprinted down court, and then found God’sgift Achiuwa under the bucket for an easy layup to give St. John’s an early 10-5 advantage with 16:07 left in the half. He later blew past a Columbia defender for an easy layup to make it 12-5 with 14:33 left.
He finished with seven points as he was hampered by foul trouble in the second half.