Halfway through their first major-college basketball game, St. John's six new thoroughbreds found themselves trailing William & Mary, but the race was just beginning. Coach Steve Lavin's first big recruiting class turned up the defensive intensity in the second half and was off and running, pulling away for a 74-59 victory Monday night at Carnesecca Arena.
The only troubling aspect is that Lavin wasn't there to see it because he's still at home recuperating from prostate cancer surgery. Special adviser Gene Keady said after the game that Lavin is getting better all the time, and he surely had to like what he saw on the telecast.
After a two-point first half, guard Nurideen Lindsey made all seven second-half shots he took on his way to a 19-point effort, and he got plenty of help from God'sgift Achiuwa (17 points, nine rebounds), Moe Harkless (17 and eight) and D'Angelo Harrison 14 and five). The Red Storm (1-0) shot 67.9 percent from the field in the second half thanks to a press that forced the Tribe (0-1) to commit 21 turnovers compared with only four for St. John's, which didn't have a turnover in the second half.
"We got down, and Coach called timeout, and everybody just looked angry," Harrison said, referring to assistant Mike Dunlap, who is running things in Lavin's absence. "Not nervousness, more like, 'All right, let's go.' Then we came out and picked it up. The way St. John's plays was the second-half way."
In the first half, the Red Storm spent too much time shooting from three-point range and didn't do a good job closing out to the Tribe's shooters, especially Quinn McDowell, who had a game-high 20 points and hit 4-for-8 from three-point range. But Dunlap adjusted at halftime, and St. John's got to the rim on its first five possessions, triggering a 15-2 surge that gave it a 41-37 lead.
Dunlap was not available to the media, but Keady, the former Purdue coach, said: "Coach Dunlap keeps preaching that together, we're better than as individuals. I have to hand it to him, at halftime, he kept cool and calm. He did a tremendous job with his halftime talk. He didn't yell like I would have."
The early St. John's run became a 31-8 explosion that gave the Storm a 57-43 lead and control of the game. One key factor was the play off the bench of Sir'Dominic Pointer, whose long arms at the top of the zone created many of the Tribe's turnovers, contributing to St. John's 28-0 dominance of points off turnovers and 16-0 in fast-break points.
"Dom is a pest at the top of the zone running around all crazy," Harkless said. "He gets us easy baskets."
As Tribe coach Tony Shaver said, "It's hard to stop fast-break layups."