The defensive intensity was there. The veteran players stepped to the fore. And a comfortable lead never turned into a white-knuckler.
St. John’s on Thursday had so many things that were missing from its narrow victory the night before, rolling to an 82-68 Lapchick Tournament victory over La Salle to mark Thanksgiving at Carnesecca Arena.
After beating St. Peter’s on Wednesday, the Red Storm took both of their games in the tourney for their 22nd Lapchick title.
They now take a step up in competition with their next game on Monday against the ACC’s Boston College at Mohegan Sun.
All-American junior college transfer Vince Cole again led St. John’s with 19 points. Returning starters Marcellus Earlington scored 14 and Greg Williams Jr. had 13, with both shaking off surprisingly quiet opening-night performances.
Freshman Dylan Addae-Wusu added 10 points and six rebounds for St. John’s.
Those performances came in a contest in which Julian Champagnie again was sidelined by an ankle injury and Rasheem Dunn was in the concussion protocol after striking his head on the floor in Wednesday’s win.
With junior Josh Roberts joining the starting lineup, it underscored just how deep the Red Storm may be this season. Two games into the season, six different players have scored in double figures.
"You’ve got [starters] doing their thing and then another wave coming off the bench," Red Storm coach Mike Anderson said.
St. John’s top players on opening night uncharacteristically were newcomers — Cole, junior college transfer Isaih Moore and freshman Posh Alexander — but the veterans played most of the key roles Thursday.
Williams set the tone with great defense and a pair of early baskets as St. John’s moved out to its first double-digit lead at 43-33 with 17:23 to play.
Earlington had a pair of three-pointers in a 14-1 run for a 57-40 lead with about 13 minutes left.
"I had a talk with Greg, Josh and everybody and said, ‘We have to play better, plain and simple,’ " Earlington said. "We’ve been here. We know how to play the system."
Cole made a jumper with about eight minutes left for a 67-48 lead, St. John’s biggest of the game. La Salle closed within eight, but that was it.
Though St. John’s prevailed over St. Peter’s, 76-75, on Wednesday, Anderson was critical of the defensive intensity. The Red Storm allowed the Peacocks to shoot 51% from the floor.
On Thursday, St. John’s came out determined to repair that.
The Red Storm forced 26 turnovers and turned them into 33 points. They made 16 steals, four by Roberts and three by Alexander.
St. John’s committed 19 turnovers, which Anderson said "is something we need to shore up."
He added, "We got better in some areas today and in some areas we didn’t. We have to get those second and third and fourth efforts on defense. We have to create our own energy. That’s what you saw."
The defense might have looked its best in the early going of the second half when it forced five turnovers and converted them into 11 points in building the 57-40 lead.
"[Williams] started it for us . . . we always tell him he is one of the most explosive players in college basketball," Earlington said. "He set the tone in the first five minutes and it carried throughout the game. I am super-proud of him."