After a long night of struggle against weak Texas-Pan American in which St. John's pulled out a 66-61 victory after forging ahead in the final 36 seconds, guard D'Angelo Harrison admitted the obvious. A team with only a seven-man rotation of scholarship players gets tired no matter who the opposition might be.
"We have that moment where we kind of get tired," Harrison said. "I'm not making excuses, but I feel we do get winded. We've all got to get together and rally up. We can't have this every game."
Harrison was referring to the fact that the Red Storm, after jumping out to an early 10-point lead, dug itself into a 12-point hole in the second half. St. John's last field goal of the first half came with 10:32 left to play. The Red Storm shot 0-for-9 and committed five turnovers in the rest of the half. That has been a trend this season, and not just against the Kentuckys of the world.
Things have been especially difficult since Nurideen Lindsey left the program, reducing the Red Storm to a six-man rotation for a short time. They're back up to seven scholarship players now with the addition of Amir Garrett (pictured) on Wednesday night. He had only the morning shootaround to get familiar with what his teammates are doing, but the 6-6 Garrett played 15 minutes, scored three points, had two rebounds and contributed, most importantly, on defense.
"I was surprised how much I played," Garrett said. "It was good. They've been going through a lot, playing with six people. No team has to deal with that besides us. I can bring energy on defense."
St. John's short-handed situation is the result of a combination of factors. The only returning scholarship player from a team that lost 10 seniors after last season is guard Malik Stith. Head coach Steve Lavin put together a nine-player recruiting class, but only six qualified academically. Hence, the shortage of manpower.
Two of the non-qualifiers, Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson, de-committed. But Garrett stayed the course, attending Bridgton Academy in Maine to get eligible for the second semester. It's a good thing for the Red Storm after Lindsey's decision to leave school.
Garrett said he was upset about not getting into school the first semester but knew he only had himself to blame. "I focused on school more than anything," Garrett said of his time in Maine. "It's been a grind, talking to the NCAA and doing everything through them. Every process we had to do was through them. It's been a grind, but I'm here now."
Asked how the addition of Garrett will affect the rest of the team, Harrison said, "I knew he was here, but I didn't know he was going to be at practice [Wednesday's shootaround]. You could tell everybody got a lift; everybody was excited. He's a very good player, and I feel like he can contribute a lot. He's long, he can play most every position on the court, he's versatile, and he can help us."
With the Big East opener against Providence coming up Tuesday at Carnsecca Arena, the Red Storm (6-5) can use all the help it can get.