PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Freshman JaKarr Sampson and sophomore D'Angelo Harrison have experienced plenty of growing pains this season and some recent shooting woes, but when St. John's had to have it, that dynamic pair took over with their athleticism in the second half of a 72-60 victory over Rutgers last night at the RAC.
With St. John's clinging to a 38-35 lead, Sampson scored 10 of his 21 points in a 23-13 run that produced a 61-48 cushion with 3:51 to play. Harrison had eight of his 20 points in that span, including two three-pointers.
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Throw in the all-around toughness at both ends by Sir'Dominic Pointer, who had 13 points, nine rebounds, seven assists, six steals and forced many of Rutgers' 17 turnovers, and it was a formula for a key conference victory for the Red Storm (12-7, 4-3 Big East).
"The one-on-one challenge in the second half, we blinked," Rutgers coach Mike Rice said. "They hit shots. I'll give them credit. They wanted it more. We have to be tougher."
Myles Mack led Rutgers (12-6, 3-4) with 17 points, but the Scarlet Knights shot only 36.5 percent from the floor and put the visitors at the foul line for 35 shots. The Storm made only 21 of those free throws, but it showed the difficulty Rutgers had coping with St. John's athleticism around the basket. Mike Poole added 11 points for Rutgers, and Wally Judge had 10.
In the second half, St. John's shot 59.1 percent from the floor and limited the Scarlet Knights to 33.3 percent. Rutgers leader Eli Carter was held to five points and 1-for-14 shooting.
Rice credited Pointer's defense. "His energy was infectious," Rice said. "He does a good job of making winning plays. He was a major factor with his steals, his energy and his toughness."
Rutgers led 28-23 late in the first half when Pointer made an improbable play that turned the momentum. He missed a shot, then turned and hustled to the defensive end, where he intercepted a lob by Carter for a potential dunk. Not only did Pointer make the catch, but he also got the ball to a teammate before landing out of bounds.
Pointer triggered a 17-0 run that carried into the second half to give St. John's a 38-28 lead.
"He's the Tasmanian devil, the energizer for our team," coach Steve Lavin said of Pointer. "He's been the difference the last couple of weeks . . . Aggressiveness and defense fueled our offense. The numbers bear that out, shooting percent in the second half on the road against a team known for its defense and toughness. We held them to 33 percent, and that's how we shot ."
As well as the Red Storm played on defense, it wouldn't have won if Sampson and Harrison hadn't converted on offense. "JaKarr is a great player," Harrison said. "We basically knocked down open shots. Anybody could have made them."
Asked if his performance came as a confidence boost, Harrison smiled and admitted, "You could say that."