No Lavin, no problem for SJU vs. St. Francis

QUEENS, N.Y. -- St. John’s was without its coach again on Tuesday night, but still managed to get back on the winning track.

Playing without Steve Lavin, who missed his second game of the season as he continues to recuperate from prostate cancer surgery, the Red Storm nevertheless had little trouble with St. Francis (NY), winning 63-48 to snap a two-game losing skid and improve to 4-2.

“[Steve's] very, very good at what he does,” said assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who coached in Lavin's place again on Tuesday. “We miss him and we know that there’s a change. But we’re nonplussed, we go about [our business].”

The Red Storm came out with defense on their brains, playing a spirited man-to-man and holding the Terriers to just three points over the first 10 minutes, taking a 14-3 lead.

“We wanted to take them out of their sets,” said Dunlap. “They’re a very good 3-point shooting team, and had played people right to the wire, [including] Seton Hall in overtime, so we did not take them lightly.”

St. John’s led 31-22 at intermission, and after St. Francis scored the first bucket of the second half, the Red Storm ripped off 10 points in a row to go up 41-24. The Terriers never cut the lead to single digits again.

For the game, St. Francis shot just 19-for-53 from the field (35.8 percent) and 5-for-23 from 3-point range (21.7 percent). The Terriers were woeful from the foul line, too (5-for-14, 35.7 percent).

St. John’s wasn’t much better in terms of free throws -- 9-for-19, just 47.4 percent. But the Red Storm were better than 50 percent from the field (24-for-46), and shot 60 percent from 3-point land (6-for-10).

Freshman shooting guard D’Angelo Harrison, who came off the bench for the first time this season, had a game-high 21 points, knocking down four of his five attempts from beyond the arc.

“My teammates just found me,” Harrison said. “I was just doing my cuts, they were setting picks for me, and I was just knocking down open shots.”

Fellow freshman Moe Harkless added 18 points, shooting 8-for-14 from the field. And a third frosh, Sir’Dominic Pointer, had his best game of the season so far, finishing with 10 points, four rebounds, three assists, three blocked shots and a couple of electrifying slam dunks.

“He’ll be a wild card all year long,” Dunlap said of the 6-foot-6 Pointer. “And by that I mean, he’s just a guy that can change the complexion of a game. But he also has to work himself into that. But we have somebody who definitely can do some things defensively -- he’s very versatile, he’s a high flyer, and he’s energy plus. So we just have to make sure we don’t overuse him. And also continue to develop him on the offensive end of the floor.”

On the other hand, forward God’sgift Achiuwa had his third straight disappointing outing, after playing extremely well in St. John’s first three games of the season. Achiuwa had just two points, shooting 1-for-5 from the field in 22 minutes before fouling out.

But Dunlap did not sound too concerned about Achiuwa’s recent performances. “Obviously we think he can play better, and he will,” said Dunlap. “But also, when you’re making a team, certain people become the main actor that night. That’s what makes a well-balanced and well-rounded team. We have a lot of parts that have never played together. And so I’m not so sure it’s what he’s not doing, it’s just that other people are excelling.”

In the big picture, St. John’s simply took care of business Tuesday night against a team picked to finish 11th in the 12-team Northeast Conference. Now they face one more tune-up in Carnesecca Arena on Saturday against Northeastern, before traveling to Kentucky next week for a matchup with the No. 2-ranked Wildcats.

Dunlap said after the game that he’s not sure when Lavin will return to the team. But the players sound confident that they are in good hands regardless.

“When Coach Dunlap takes over, it’s just a -- click! -- it’s the same thing as Coach Lavin being here,” said Pointer. “We still play the same, we still play with intensity, and we still play hard."