Steve Lavin is learning about his young St. John's team, the same as we are.
After six games in 12 days to open the season, capped off by a 79-68 victory over Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday, he likes what he sees -- for the most part, anyway.
"You start to see certain characteristics or traits in a basketball team," Lavin said. "And while we're still a work in progress, (I'm) pleased with our ability to fight back in games, and also to maintain our poise or composure, to problem-solve and to find a way to win games."
St. John's recovered nicely from back-to-back losses to Murray State and Baylor at the Charleston Classic last week. They've answered with back-to-back wins at Carnesecca Arena to improve to 4-2 on the year.
On Thanksgiving Eve, the Red Storm came back from nine down in the first half to dispatch a pesky Holy Cross squad, 65-53. Three nights later, they fell behind by 13, 23-10, before rallying to tie the game at intermission and take control in the second half.
Sophomore shooting guard D'Angelo Harrison is clearly the team's star, as expected, and has scored at least 17 points in each game. (He had 20 on Saturday, 18 in the second half.) But other players have stepped up at different times.
Fellow soph Phil Greene IV had a surprising 20 points in the season opener versus Detroit. Freshman Jakarr Sampson scored 20 against Holy Cross. And against FGCU, sophomore swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer ignited the team off the bench with a fabulous all-around effort: 15 points, eight rebounds, six assists, three blocked shots and two steals.
"This was clearly his most dominant -- no pun intended -- performance of his career," Lavin said. "But he does things in practice, and in stretches in the game, so we're not surprised. I think everyone on the staff knows he's capable of it, but he put it all together tonight."
"When I play D, my offense comes -- it's eventually gonna come," Pointer said.
If Pointer -- who averaged 3.6 points and 2.6 rebounds over the first five games -- can be a difference-maker off the bench on a more regular basis, this team becomes significantly tougher to handle. Is he up to the task? We'll see.
There's a lot left for Lavin, and the rest of us, to discover about this team comprised almost entirely of freshmen and sophomores. Heck, a couple weeks ago, Lavin was strongly considering redshirting freshman guard Felix Balamou. He didn't even get into the game in the season opener. But on Saturday, five games later, Lavin inserted Balamou into the starting lineup after his strong performance against Holy Cross.
"We can all draw inspiration from Felix," Lavin said. "Just having a good attitude -- of being eager and ready when called upon. And then responding."
Balamou was limited to 17 minutes Saturday, because of foul trouble and getting elbowed in the face while playing defense with 8:24 left in the first half. He had to leave the game for a few minutes because his nose was bleeding, but he returned and scored eight points on the night.
(Balamou said he felt "a little bit dizzy" after the game, and was going to be examined by team doctors.)
The blow to Balamou may have sparked the St. John's comeback, at least in part. The Red Storm trailed by 11 points at the time, 25-14, and both Pointer and Harrison said they were upset about the play.
"That gave us a little extra motivation to go out there and play a little bit harder," Pointer said.
"I was mad," Harrison said. "When he was on the ground bleeding, I was kind of hot."
But the bigger reason for the St. John's comeback likely was rebounding. The Red Storm were outboarded 21-12 over the first 20 minutes. At halftime, Lavin challenged his team to collect 10 more rebounds than FGCU in the second half.
They got 11 of 'em.
So it appears this team takes direction pretty well, too. It's also now 3-0 at home -- and this latest victory wasn't against a cupcake. Florida Gulf Coast has already beaten an ACC squad (Miami) by 12, and is expected to contend in the Atlantic Sun.
"(I'd) rather be 6-0 or 5-1 -- and especially at St. John's, there's no moral victories, because you want to win every game," Lavin said. "But, given where we are as a program and where this particular team is, (I'm) pleased with their gradual maturation, their progress over the course of the last 12 days."
Now comes a few days of rest before hosting South Carolina on Thursday.
One more game in November. Plenty more to learn before March.