St. John's was less than 16 hours removed from its overtime loss to Penn State in the first round of the Barclays Classic on Friday night, and it showed as the Red Storm fell behind Georgia Tech by 15 points at the beginning of Saturday afternoon's consolation game. Coach Steve Lavin admitted he was "searching" for a spark of energy when he made a hockey-style change, subbing out the five starters after three minutes.
"I'm sure there was a hangover from last night's heartbreaking loss," Lavin said. "We had a chance to win the game and we let it slip away. There was fragility, a little crisis in confidence, fatigue. You have to make kids realize there's more in the tank than they realize."
After scoring only four points in the first 11-plus minutes of the game, St. John's pulled within seven at halftime before Tech extended its lead to 13 early in the second half. Then the Red Storm kicked into gear with the help of a pressing defense that created a monster 29-4 run that led to a 69-58 victory over the Yellow Jackets.
In the championship game, Mississippi beat Penn State, 79-76, led by 19 points apiece from Marshall Henderson and Jarvis Summers. D.J. Newbill had 23 points for Penn State.
St. John's JaKarr Sampson, who was scoreless in the first half and took only one shot, had 10 of his 16 points in the 29-4 run that spanned nearly 11 minutes. D'Angelo Harrison had eight of his 21 points in that run. The Red Storm (5-2) went from trailing 44-31 to leading 60-48.
"Coach Lavin and D'Angelo talked to me and told me to be more aggressive," Sampson said. "I wanted to. I just got off to a bad start . . . Fast break is our style. That's the kind of players coach Lavin recruited, guys who can score buckets in transition."
Lavin added, "I thought JaKarr had a breakthrough in the second half. It was all mental. That was him coming with a strategy to run the floor harder, to post up harder, to attack the rim. That opened up his mid-range jump shots as well."
It was a remarkable turnaround fueled by a defense that relied on St. John's length and athleticism. The Red Storm forced 20 Tech turnovers and turned that into a 20-10 advantage in points off turnovers.
"That's a big number," Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said. "It was the difference in the game."
The previous night against Penn State, St. John's overcame another 15-point deficit to take a late lead in regulation with the help of Max Hooper's three-point shooting. This time, Lavin said, "It was the full-court press and going with the quicker 'posse' lineup. Obviously, Dom Pointer is always the catalyst in every comeback . . . We were fortunate to have that stretch where we held them without a field goal for nearly 13 minutes. That turned the tide for us."
Pointer had nine points and five steals. Chris Obekpa had six blocked shots that discouraged the Yellow Jackets (5-3), who had no scorers in double figures and were topped by nine points each from Trae Golden and Robert Carter. Tech shot only 28.6 percent from the field in the second half.
Harrison acknowledged that St. John's doesn't want to get in the habit of digging a hole in every game, but he added, "This team has a way of fighting back."