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Rysheed Jordan takes command

St. John's Rysheed Jordan takes an inside shot.

St. John's Rysheed Jordan takes an inside shot. (Jan. 11, 2014) (Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy)

Highly recruited freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan has had moments this season that hint at his promise for St. John’s. There was his 13-point effort and tough defense in a loss to No. 2 Syracuse and his career-high 17 points in a loss at Xavier.

But the Philadelphia native really stepped up against a foe from his hometown in the Red Storm’s 74-67 loss to No. 8 Villanova Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

Jordan made only one of seven first-half shots despite a variety of open looks in the paint but came back with a five-of-seven performance in the second half to finish with 12 points, five rebounds, two assists and two steals. Jordan scored St. John’s first six points of the second half to preserve a 39-37 Red Storm lead, and his play was critical in a stretch when the teams traded the lead 10 straight times. On the ninth, Jordan’s layup gave St. John’s its last lead at 56-55.

Besides his offense, the long-limbed Jordan played solid defense in limiting Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono (13 points) to just five field-goal attempts. “He’s a tough kid,” said Arcidiacono, who hails from the Philly suburbs and said he only played against Jordan previously in a couple of All-Star games. “He plays good defense, and offensively, we couldn’t stop him in the second half.”

St. John’s coach Steve Lavin hasn’t yet allowed Jordan to talk to the media because of his struggles adapting to the demands of college studies and basketball combined with the difficulties he faces at home in Philadelphia. Jordan is the oldest of seven children, and his mother is dealing with heart problems. His grandfather also has health issues.

Jordan had a poor two-point game coming off the bench a week ago in a loss at Georgetown, but Lavin started him against the Wildcats and got an inspired effort. “He was very aggressive leading the team and making big plays,” junior guard Phil Greene said. “He came out of his shell a little bit.”

Sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson added, “That’s what we need him to do is be a leader on the floor. We need him to do that day in and day out.”

Lavin said the team-high 31 minutes playing time were “an indication Rysheed played well. He’s going through the natural maturation process. He’s played well in our three games at the Garden. He’s a quick study.

“When he has a stretch of three or four weeks of good practices, no injuries and no challenges on the homefront with the health of his mother and grandfather, his play will be elevated.”

If Jordan can quickly join Sampson and D’Angelo Harrison as a reliable scorer and become the tie that binds his teammates together, the Red Storm (9-6, 0-3 Big East) might yet rebound from a slow Big East start.