Eventually, the long arms of St. John's defensive law laid down a strong comeback against resourceful Holy Cross, 65-53, in last night's non-conference men's basketball game.
St. John's two packages of large trouble from Centereach's Our Savior New American school, 6-9 Chris Obekpa of Nigeria and 6-4 Felix Balamou of Guinea, were especially important, repeatedly stoning Holy Cross field goals attempts with a combined nine blocked shots -- six by Obekpa. That contributed mightily to Holy Cross' wimpy 39 percent field-goal percentage in the second half and a general change of momentum.
Balamou, St. John's coach Steve Lavin said, "once again was a spark, his readiness. He's ready and he delivers, and I think he turned the momentum of this game. Like smelling salts, he awakened his teammates."
Then there was freshman JaKarr Sampson, with a game-high 20 points and team-high seven rebounds, plus a blocked shot. "He's developing before our eyes," Lavin said. "All his vital signs are going north."
It was an 11-2 St. John's stretch that lasted to the midway point of the second half and included six Sampson points that tilted the game permanently in the home team's favor.
His soaring advance, Sampson said, "is just being more relaxed, taking my time out there, letting the game come to me, not trying to rush anything, getting used to my teammates."
For St. John's (3-2), there was plenty of early trouble here in the outer boroughs of Gotham City. Holy Cross, a 15-14 team last season, was being rescued, time and again, by its Batman and Robin combo of 6-9 junior Dave Dudzinksi and 5-9 sophomore Justin Burrell.
Holy Danger at the Door. With Burrell running the offense and Dudzinski repeatedly converting inside passes into layups, Holy Cross (3-2) led by a many at nine points, at 23-14, with 6:45 left in the first half. Both finished with a team-high 12 points.
But, by running off eight straight points -- four apiece by D'Angelo Harrison and Christian Jones -- St. John's began an eventual climb into a 30-30 halftime tie. And, when Dudzinski was saddled with his third foul only 23 seconds into the second half, the task for visiting Holy Cross became exponentially more difficult.
"I know one thing," Balamou said, "when you play hard, that is 90 percent of getting coach to let you play. Just be quiet and play."