CINCINNATI -- For the first time in his career, Steve Lavin wrote just one word on the dry erase board in the St. John's locker room.
"It was the main emphasis all day, from yesterday in practice to our pregame meal to our pregame talk, each timeout, halftime and down the stretch," Lavin said. "I said, 'If we outrebound them, we'll win the game. If we don't, we'll lose.' "
The Red Storm beat the Bearcats at their own game, outrebounding them 40-34 en route to a much-needed 53-52 statement win. St. John's snapped a two-game losing streak and notched its first Big East win of the season.
Lavin and his staff have been working all season on how to best motivate a team with 10 freshmen and sophomores. Facing No. 14 Cincinnati, the second-best rebounding team in the nation (45.3 rebounds per game), his strategy for his young team was bold, but it worked.
"I said to the team, why don't we take this opportunity today to flip it and outrebound Cincinnati so we can win?" Lavin said. "And they came through . . . The aggressive team is the one who makes their breaks, and I thought we were able to finally get over the hump and finish a win because we were aggressive from start to finish."
St. John's (9-5, 1-1 Big East) built a 12-point lead early in the second half and led 48-38 with 7:01 left before the Bearcats (13-2, 1-1) started chipping away at the deficit. Led by two three-pointers from Cincinnati guard Cashmere Wright, who had 23 points, Cincinnati pulled within one with 2:32 left and went ahead 52-51 on a layup by Wright with 53 seconds left.
Disappearing leads have been all too familiar for the Red Storm this season but this time, St. John's was determined to pull it out. "In my mind, I was like, 'Not again,' because that happened to us earlier in the season," JaKarr Sampson said. "We got some key stops . . . we just kept our composure."
That composure came in the form of a jumper from D'Angelo Harrison (15 points) with 31 seconds left. Harrison got a clear look over Wright and made the shot to give St. John's the lead for good at 53-52.
"My teammates believed in me . . . I got the switch I wanted, and I just pulled up right over him and it was a great shot," Harrison said. "Coach could have called anyone's number, and he called my number and I delivered."
The Bearcats had one last chance to win it, but Titus Rubles missed a wide-open shot from 12 feet and the Red Storm pulled down one final rebound, by Sir'Dominic Pointer, with three seconds left. He missed the front end of a one-and-one but Cincinnati could only get off a last-second heave from beyond halfcourt that fell far short.
"We got outplayed for 35 minutes. We had one and a half guys [Wright and Rubles] come to play today," Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin said. "You don't come to play, you're gonna lose. You don't come ready to play, I don't care who you are."