It had been exactly three weeks since St. John's won a game, a span that included five straight losses to open the new Big East. So it didn't really matter that Dartmouth, a middle-of-the-pack Ivy League team, was the punching bag the Red Storm used to exorcise its demons Saturday night before 5,505 fans at Carnesecca Arena.
What mattered was the way St. John's used its speed, athleticism and pressure defense to turn an anxious four-point halftime lead into a 69-55 blowout victory. The Red Storm (10-8) led by as much as 21 points and held the Big Green (7-8) to 26.7 percent shooting (8-for-30) in the second half.
"It feels great to get the monkey off our backs, just to get one in the 'W' column," said Phil Greene, who led the Storm with 16 points, including a 4-for-5 performance from three-point range. "We needed a win, period. We were in the desert. Getting that win helps a lot with confidence, with getting our minds straight."
When the losses pile up, it hardly matters that the Red Storm lost by seven or fewer points in its previous three. "It was bad," said JaKarr Sampson, who had 13 points. "We come from places where we're not used to losing. Losing five straight is always hard. You get in a dark place. It's tough, but you've got to keep to your system and keep to what we do best."
The Red Storm led only 38-34 at halftime. The Big Green, which got 13 points from John Golden, 11 rebounds from Connor Boehm and shot 9-for-15 from three-point range, was playing a patient Ivy League-style game, going deep into the shot clock and probing for a good shot. But Dartmouth finished with 15 turnovers and had its shots blocked 11 times as a result of St. John's physical advantage.
When the second half began, the Red Storm came out aggressively, scoring the first seven points and then going to a full-court press. That helped create a 16-4 run midway in the half, including eight points from Sampson and a pair of three-pointers from freshman Rysheed Jordan, for a 66-45 lead.
Asked if coach Steve Lavin told his troops to turn up the pressure to force a transition game, Greene said, "That's exactly what was said at halftime. They wanted to run their sets and use the whole shot clock, so we wanted to speed them up, use our length, get out in transition and get easy buckets . . . We had a breakthrough."
Dartmouth coach Paul Cormier praised his players' effort but said they had trouble executing against the Red Storm. "St. John's played terrific in the second half," Cormier said. "They came to play all game. We had to quicken our shots because we were playing against a very athletic team."
Now it's back to Big East play the rest of the season, starting with Seton Hall (11-7, 2-3 Big East) Thursday night at Carnesecca. "It was a positive step to get a win," Lavin said. "Now it's our intention to carry that momentum to the game against Seton Hall."