Any close inspection of St. John's 73-57 victory over Wagner in its home opener Friday night before a Carnesecca Arena crowd of 4,337 would reveal some ominous signs for a team expecting a quantum leap forward. The Red Storm shot 0-for-10 from three-point range, had eight shots blocked and watched new starters Rysheed Jordan and Orlando Sanchez shoot a combined 1-for-13.
But D'Angelo Harrison overrode those concerns with a 25-point performance, including an 11-for-11 effort at the foul line, and added five rebounds and a team-high four assists. That was on the heels of his 27-point showing in the season-opening loss to Wisconsin.
During the summer, Harrison addressed the behavioral issues that led to his six-game suspension at the end of last season. His determination to regain his leadership position has been evident.
"I'm not surprised," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "He's as gifted an offensive player as I've coached. He can put up numbers in a variety of ways. I'm pleased with his progress from a maturation standpoint. He's playing with purposeful poise."
A St. John's lead that reached 18 points in the first half was cut to 60-54 after a 15-7 Seahawks run that included three three-pointers by Jay Harris, the last with 3:45 left. With the game in doubt, Lavin went with veterans Harrison, JaKarr Sampson (13 points, seven rebounds), Sir'Dominic Pointer and Jamal Branch along with Sanchez down the stretch. They produced a 13-3 finishing run to secure the win.
Latif Rivers topped Wagner (1-2) with 18 points. Harris had 14, Kenneth Ortiz added 10 and Mario Moody totaled eight rebounds and four blocked shots. St. John's (1-1) made 29 of 36 free throws compared with 6 of 9 for Wagner, which also was outrebounded 45-34.
Jordan, who was scoreless and shot 0-for-7, watched the end from the bench and played only 17 minutes.
It's been a shaky start for the super-hyped freshman, who had six points and shot 2-for-9 against Wisconsin.
"He didn't have a strong game offensively," Lavin said. "Jamal Branch gave us a lift off the bench. I went with the older group to seal the victory . . . I've never had a freshman who didn't have some degree of learning curve.I like what Rysheed brings to the table. He didn't have a turnover, and he missed some bunnies inside that weren't bad shots."
Describing the end, Harrison said, "Coach put the older group on the floor and we took care of business." But he expressed faith in Jordan. "He's going to get it together," Harrison said. "I'm glad he hit the wall early. He'll get out of it.''
Sampson added, "He just needs to take a deep breath and relax."