Steve Lavin brought St. John's out to Northern California to test his youthful squad. Not only were the Johnnies tested, but they ran into a buzz saw.
What were Lavin's words for NJIT's offensive performance against St. John's on Saturday? They sliced them up like a side of fries. Three thousand miles away, the fries were still warm.
St. John's fell to the San Francisco Dons, 81-65, on the night USF honored some of its own basketball legends, including Lavin's father, Cap. Unlike some of their previous wins, the Red Storm was unable to overcome a slow start.
De'End Parker led San Francisco with 21 points, many of which were facilitated by Cody Doolin's impressive 14 assists. Doolin scored 18 points, while Mark Tollefsen added 11. Tim Derksen added 10 points and 8 rebounds.
USF got out to a hot start from the field in the first half. They converted on six three-pointers before intermission, including three from guard Avry Holmes (9 points).
St. John's went into the locker room down three (38-35) as a result of cohesive offensive play by the Dons, who passed the ball and found open shooters; they had 10 assists on their 15 made baskets. Harrison scored 12 of the Johnnies' 35 first half points.
One of the keys for the Red Storm invading cramped War Memorial Gym was how they'd rebound against USF, the nation's 18th-best rebounding team coming into the night.
St. John's ultimately out-rebounded San Francisco, 36-32, but failed to equalize their opponent in other aspects of the game.
San Francisco started hot again in the beginning of the second half by starting the half on a 9-0 run, ballooning their lead to 15. The Red Storm didn't make the necessary defensive adjustments and seemed to lack intensity.
Dons' point guard Cody Doolin was a tough defensive assignment for the Storm all night. He breezed by Johnnies defenders for easy lay-ins and penetrated the zone to find open shooters. St. John's couldn't find an answer for Doolin.
The Johnnies woke up around the 12:00 minute mark in the second half, led by Sampson's play on both sides of the ball. He and Sir`Dominic Pointer were the catalysts of the extension of the Red Storm's match-up zone, making the Dons look uncomfortable. San Francisco exceeded their first half turnover total in the first ten minutes after intermission.
After a Sampson jumper at the 7:30 mark, St. John's finally cut San Francisco's lead to just three. But an immediate 5-point answer from the Dons (an uncontested Doolin lay-up and three De'End Parker free throws following a Sampson perimeter foul) suddenly halted the Red Storm's momentum. By the 5:00 mark, USF's lead was back to ten, and the Dons never looked back. San Francisco improves to 5-1 with their highlight win.
Pointer played a spirited game defensively, but found himself committing ill-advised fouls. After scoring just six points off the bench, Pointer fouled out late in the game.
Harrison's strong first half performance didn't carry over into the second frame. Despite the Red Storm's surge in the middle of the second half, the Storm's leading scorer only contributed two points after halftime, shooting 1 of 7 from the field.
Unlike they were in previous wins, St. John's was unable to balance its scoring in this west coast tilt. After Sampson (22) and Harrison (14), no other teammate reached double figures. Amir Garrett scored 7 points and grabbed 9 rebounds in 25 minutes.
St. John's, now 6-3 on the season, will travel back east to face Fordham on Saturday night in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.