St. John's lets its play do talking in rout of San Francisco
It would have been easy to come in overconfident. St. John's took No. 2 Syracuse to the brink three days earlier and on the other side of the court Wednesday night was a nondescript mid-major team from the opposite coast.
"The hangover from an emotional loss like the one we had against Syracuse could sometimes end up beating you twice," coach Steve Lavin said.
The Red Storm didn't let that happen in an 81-57 rout of San Francisco in front of 4,282 at Carnesecca Arena.
The seeds for victory might have been sown about an hour before the game. Lavin had every single member of the roster -- including walk-ons and redshirts -- address the team in the locker room. He wanted to break up the monotony of the players only hearing the voices of the coaches.
"They hit on the all the key elements, all the aspects of play that we need to elevate our team if we're going to have a special season," Lavin said.
The main points? Avoiding what would have been a letdown and actually getting off to a good start, something St. John's (7-3) has failed to do against teams like Syracuse, Penn State and Georgia Tech. The typical Red Storm formula this year has been to get down by double digits only to scratch and claw its way back in the second half.
None of that was needed against San Francisco (6-5). St. John's led 43-31 at halftime and the advantage ballooned to as much as 76-48 with 4:33 left in the game.
"If we keep this up, we'll be hard to beat," junior guard D'Angelo Harrison said.
Harrison led St. John's with 18 points and tied Willie Shaw atop the school's all-time career three-pointers list (151). JaKarr Sampson had 14 points, Orlando Sanchez had 11 points and highly touted freshman Rysheed Jordan had his second straight strong game (10 points, four assists in 22 minutes).
"He's catching up now," sophomore Chris Obekpa said. "At first, it was kind of slow."
San Francisco, which was led by Mark Tollefsen's 14 points, wasn't going to sneak up on St. John's. The Dons upset the Red Storm last year in California.
"We had to pay back," Obekpa said.
Lavin said he had the idea to let the players each give their own pregame speech less than an hour before tip. It seemed to work. "Talk is cheap if it's not backed up by the actions," he said.