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Monday, December 20, 2010
Rapid Reaction: St. John's 62, Davidson 57

By Kieran Darcy

NEW YORK -- A quick take on St. John's 62-57 win over Davidson on Monday night at Madison Square Garden:

WHAT IT MEANS: St. John's snaps its two-game losing streak, and improves to 6-3 on the season. Also, Steve Lavin wins his first game at the Garden as the St. John's head coach.

This is a quality win for St. John's. Yes, a Big East team should beat a Southern Conference team at home --but Davidson has talent, even without Stephen Curry, and is very well-coached.

Davidson drops to 5-5 on the season.

"Over the course of a season, there's gonna be nights where you play a game that isn't a thing of beauty for the spectators, but you've gotta find a way to grind out or manufacture a win," Lavin said. "And I thought tonight was an example of a group of kids who really had the stick-to-it-iveness and resolve to find a way to get a victory, and that's what impressed me most."

A DIFFERENT WORLD: In St. John's last two games, losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham, the Red Storm blew big second-half leads. This time around, they trailed by three at the half and came from behind. St. John's fought back and led by five, 51-46, with 8:18 remaining in the second half. Then Davidson clawed back to tie it up, 55 all.

The winning points actually came on two made free throws by Justin Burrell (a 35 percent free throw shooter coming into the game) with 5:04 left. Both teams went into a major drought after that. Davidson had two pretty good looks from behind the 3-point line with under a minute left -- one when the Wildcats were down by two, and one when they were down by three -- but both missed.

"I think in the first half we may have been trying too hard, but it was coming from a good place. I thought we were a little uptight, we rushed," Lavin said. "The second half it wasn't as though there was great offensive rhythm, but our kids played a little more aggressively and they didn't seem quite as inhibited."

MUST CAPITALIZE: St. John's forced 14 Davidson turnovers in the first half, yet only scored six points off those 14 giveaways. The Red Storm have to take better advantage of those opportunities -- especially when they're struggling to get good looks in their half-court offense, as they did for much of the game Monday night, particularly in the first half.

That said, St. John's played a very strong defensive game overall, limiting Davidson to 34 percent shooting from the field (16-for-47) and forcing 21 total turnovers.

"We thought we had to really crawl in defensively in terms of our ball pressure, and I think that was ultimately the difference in the game," Lavin said.

"I think they do a masterful job of mixing up their defenses," said Davidson coach Bob McKillop. "Steve has them playing pressure -- three different kinds of pressure -- and he has them playing two different kinds of half-court [defense]. He's got players that are seniors that have instinctive eyes, who really have a great break on the ball. They play the passing lanes very well. They're long. So I think they're very good."

BIG IMPROVEMENT: D.J. Kennedy was more aggressive than he has been in most games this season -- Kennedy led the Red Storm with 17 points and nine rebounds. But he could still look for his shot more -- he only took nine, making seven.

"I put a lot of pressure on myself, and my teammates expect a lot from me," Kennedy said. "I just wanted to come out here and respond today, and get that W."

Also, freshman Dwayne Polee -- who's coming off the bench now -- made a nice contribution. Polee, who was scoreless in the team's previous two games, had six points, three rebounds and a steal. And Burrell had five points and seven rebounds off the bench, plus those crucial free throws.

BOUNCING BACK: The importance of this win, after back-to-back heartbreakers against St. Bonaventure and Fordham followed by eight days off, cannot be underestimated. Lavin said he had to take a step back and look at the big picture after the Fordham loss.

"After the Fordham game, I talked to our staff -- we have to remind ourselves, 'cause I even forget, that we've been with this group, in terms of the entire team and our entire staff, for nine weeks," Lavin said. "And I told the kids, really, relatively speaking, [this is] an infancy. And naturally the Big East is coming up so there's that sense of urgency -- we want to continue to improve. But it's an 180-degree different system and style of play from what this group [is used to] -- defensively it is.

"The full court pressure, the run and jumps, the traps, the multiple defenses that we've implemented is dramatically different. And they've been receptive as learners and really adapted well when you consider how short a period of time it is we've been together."

"I feel like we've got a long way to go," Kennedy said. "We just show flashes … it’s still early, and we know the potential we can reach."

WHAT'S NEXT: St. John's will play Northwestern in the Holiday Festival championship game, Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. Davidson will play St. Francis of Brooklyn in the consolation game, Tuesday night at 7 p.m.