As St. John's let the clock wind down during the final seconds of its 89-65 win over South Carolina, it became abundantly clear.
In only the sixth game of the season, the Red Storm had played its most complete game yet.
Led by D`Angelo Harrison's fifth time scoring at least 20 points this year, the Johnnies put close to 90 points on the board against a Gamecocks team who hadn't allowed more than 76 in its first six outings. St. John's shot 57% from the field - its highest mark this season.
St. John's had four of its seven main rotational players score in double figures, while two others added 8 points each. The Johnnies were efficient and effective, all without a single man playing 30 minutes.
But, as the Red Storm learned the hard way down in Charleston against the lengthy and talented Baylor Bears, they won't be able to win consistently by challenging opponents to shootouts. Though a bloated box score seems nice to the eye, it's more than that which leads to wins.
Sure, they weren't ultimately faced with a daunting challenge in the Gamecocks on Thursday night. But soon the Johnnies will be - and they'll need to do the little things to find success. On this night, they did almost everything well.
"There were some stretches where we played good basketball," Steve Lavin said after the game. "But because we're young, we go through stretches don't sustain the level of play that we prefer to."
Smile, coach! You're guys played a cohesive brand of basketball, the same way you always preach.
Okay, fine, the Red Storm was out-rebounded 43-21 by South Carolina, a significantly undersized squad. But that's nothing new, and a liability that Lavin's team will face all year.
"[Rebounding] will be a worry all year," Lavin continued. "If you look at our roster, we don't have that DeJuan Blair, that Kevin Love, Sheldon Williams, or [Emeka] Okafor."
Despite the 43 (24 offensive) rebounds allowed on Thursday, St. John's made up for its one drawback by playing solid, sustained defense. The Johnnies held the Gamecocks to 36.9% from the field, which included a weak 5-23 from long range.
St. John's played a balanced game on the defensive side, transitioning between their man-to-man and zone (what the team calls 'quicksand') sets. By blocking 9 shots and grabbing 8 steals, St. John's kept South Carolina from getting high-percentage interior looks at the basket.
"The beauty of shot-blocking is that it makes guys not want to come (inside)," first-year Gamecocks head coach Frank Martin said. "We spoke about trying to exploit the middle of the zone, but our guys wouldn't run in there. Give them credit because [St. John's] jumped up and discouraged us."
With prolific swatters in Chris Obekpa, JaKarr Sampson, and bouncy Felix Balamou, the Red Storm has shot-altering weapons that the program has never had before. It really does change the complexion of games.
"We stress in practice that defense is what is going to win us games," Harrison mentioned. "If we can continue to hold teams to 36 percent, we'll be fine."
If St. John's can find a way to play as rounded as they did Thursday, D'Angelo is right - they will be just fine.
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