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Steve Lavin goes easy on St. John’s kids

Georgetown's Mikael Hopkins attempts a dunk over St.

Georgetown's Mikael Hopkins attempts a dunk over St. John's Sir'Dominic Pointer during the first half. (Jan. 12, 2013) Credit: Jason DeCrow

St. John’s coach Steve Lavin was smiling and mild-mannered following a 67-51 loss to Georgetown in which the Hoyas led by as much as 26 points Saturday at Madison Square Garden. He didn’t air out the locker room after the game or chew out his players during the game for their failure to bring a top effort against a Georgetown team they knew would be desperate for its first Big East win after two surprising losses.

The only real message sent by Lavin came at the start of the second half, when he benched starters JaKarr Sampson, Amir Garrett and Phil Greene in favor of Sir’Dominic Pointer, Jamal Branch and Felix Balamou. Even then, he tempered it by saying Sampson would have started if not for picking up his third foul in the first half.

“The group at the end of the first half gave us a spark,” Lavin said, explaining his decision. Focusing on his team’s youth, Lavin added, “Nothing will surprise me. Because we’re youthful, this will be a rollercoaster ride. We have to buckle up…Very often, teams have to learn the hard way, which today we did.”

Lavin’s upbeat demeanor underscores his knowledge of how fragile this team is with a roster that includes nine freshmen and sophomores and no real leader outside of D’Angelo Harrison, who was limited to seven points by a Georgetown zone that focused all its attention on him. Freshman Chris Obekpa gives a consistent effort on defense in the middle and has improved his rebounding recently.

But the only member of the Red Storm who really kept his head in the game against Georgetown and tried to make something happen was Pointer (pictured), who had three steals and four assists to go with his 11 points. He never stopped playing defense, which is something that needs to become contagious.

“We need to pick it up on defense,” Pointer said. “Without ball pressure, they will pick us apart. Every game, you need pressure on the ball to force turnovers. It’s just manning up and taking pride in your defense and not letting somebody beat up on you.”

As bad as St. John’s offense looked in the first half, which ended with Georgetown holding a 36-19 lead, the Red Storm could have kept it close with a better defensive effort. But when a young team struggles to make shots on offense, it sometimes leads to a letdown on the defensive end. The reaction should be just the opposite, and that’s what Pointer tried to demonstrate. But his teammates failed to follow his example.

“We’re very embarrassed,” Pointer said. “We’ve got to get back to work because Notre Dame is right around the corner [on Tuesday night at the Garden]. This is a bad loss. We’ve got to snap back.”

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