St. John's standout guard D'Angelo Harrison said Columbia is a pretty good team and that he knew the Lions were bound to have some sort of run in them.
The problem was, the Red Storm seemed as if it were waiting for that run before deciding to play its best basketball.
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And Columbia was glad to oblige.
In its final non-conference game before Big East play begins, St. John's defeated Columbia, 65-59, in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival at Barclays Center despite seeing a 14-point lead become a one-point deficit in the second half.
St. John's led 48-34 with 14:17 left but was held scoreless for the next 5:33, and Alex Rosenberg's three-point play capped a 17-2 run that put the Lions ahead 51-50. Then St. John's responded with nine unanswered points and a 15-8 run of its own to finish the game.
The intensity on defense shifted to a higher gear at that point, with Orlando Sanchez and JaKarr Sampson contributing timely blocks and rebounds that led to transition baskets.
"Having a sense of urgency; we have to have that each and every possession, not just when we're up one or up 12 or even up 25," Harrison said. "You always have to play the same."
St. John's coach Steve Lavin attributed Columbia's second-half run to its zone defense, a methodical approach on offense, back-cuts to the basket and superb three-point shooting.
Columbia (7-6) shot 9-for-18 from three-point range but was held to 38 percent shooting overall (19-for-50). St. John's (9-3) shot 47 percent from the field but converted only 14 of 26 free throws.
Harrison led St. John's with 15 points and Sanchez had 12 points and nine rebounds. Rysheed Jordan started and had seven points after missing the Red Storm's previous game, a win over Youngstown the previous Saturday, to tend to his ill mother in Philadelphia.
Columbia freshman Luke Petrasek, a former Northport High School star and the 2013 Newsday Suffolk player of the year, had 12 points, five rebounds and four assists for Columbia.
St. John's sometimes seems to play at its best and with a higher sense of urgency only when it is taken to the brink of defeat.
The first half was similar to the second in that sense. With the score tied at 28 with five minutes left in the first half, St. John's went on a 9-2 run and led 37-30 at the break.
Lavin said he expected this type of game against Columbia, which he said has more height than any previous opponent.
He acknowledged that his team showed maturity in not losing the game -- and also said that like many other teams, St. John's could use more time before beginning its Big East schedule at Xavier on Tuesday.
"Are we pleased with where we are? Are we satisfied, complacent? No," Lavin said. "We got a long way to go in a number of areas."
Yet despite letting a large lead slip away in the second half, Harrison said he believed the team played well enough to win in the Big East.
"We pulled out a victory," Harrison said, "and that's all that matters."