Second chances aren't always easy to come by. Luckily for the St. John's Red Storm, they will get one on Wednesday.
Just two weeks ago, the Johnnies dropped a devastating two-point battle to their tri-state foes at Madison Square Garden. Poor free throw shooting and late-game execution allowed Mike Rice's Scarlet Knights to get by a hungry St. John's team on their home floor.
D`Angelo Harrison and JaKarr Sampson are the Red Storm's two leading scorers, and were two of the three Johnnies to score in double figures that night. They also missed three-pointers on consecutive possessions in the waning seconds that would have given St. John's a lead and/or the win.
"We missed free throws and I should have taken a better shot [down the stretch]," Harrison said of the game on Tuesday afternoon. "We should have easily won that game."
The loss plunged St. John's to 1-2 in the conference and erased the momentum they had gained by shocking Cincinnati just days before. Instead of giving themselves a boost, they fell back into a hole.
"I feel like we all played a part in that loss," Sampson said. "Especially after the big win over Cincinnati, we should have come out with a different mindset."
Since that night, the Johnnies have gone 2-1 headlined by wins in their last two games against Notre Dame and DePaul. Momentum again seems to be on the Red Storm's side, but they know that this opportunity is too good to let slip away...again. Even on the road across the Hudson (and a few miles in) at the RAC.
"I'm glad to have a second shot at them. They're one of our rival schools," Harrison continued. "It's going to be a tough game, but we're up for the challenge."
Whenever St. John's (11-7, 3-3 Big East) and Rutgers (12-5, 3-3 Big East) meet, it is always tough. The rivals' last four meetings have been decided by a combined nine points - three times by 2, the other by 3. They're just about as evenly matched as you're going to get.
And with close games come nail-biting finishes. Harrison and Sampson have bad tastes in their mouths reminiscing on what could have, or even what should have been the beginning of a good Garden homestand on January 9th. The odds are that they will find themselves in a similar situation around 9:30 on Wednesday, when the clock is dwindling to triple-zeroes.
Both say that St. John's rarely works on last-minute, pressure-packed possessions in practice. It's more of a natural part of the flow of the offense that they run all game long, their two-man game with both players starting at the top of the key. But if you watched them toss prayerful three-pointers from the right wing against Rutgers, both rushed, you know those final possessions were anything but natural.
Steve Lavin likes to run sets through his two most potent threats in such situations. Two seasons ago, it was Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee. This time around, it's likely to be either Harrison or Sampson with point guard Jamal Branch, who only played 8 minutes in the first meeting. Branch has become a more consistent threat on the court.
Whether it is he, Harrison, or any other Lavin's other options on Wednesday, Sampson is fueling his hunger with memory.
"I like [getting to play Rutgers again]," Sampson said, with his expected smile. "I felt like we should have won the first game. I felt like we were a better team than them and we gave them the game. It's always good to have a second chance, you know?"
We know. Now seize it.
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