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Tuesday, November 26, 2013
St. John's struggles to beat Longwood

By Kieran Darcy

NEW YORK -- "Winning ugly" doesn't do it justice.

St. John's notched its fourth victory in a row Tuesday night, defeating Longwood 65-47 at Carnesecca Arena. But don't be fooled by the final score. The Red Storm trailed for most of the first half, and led by only single digits for much of the second half, before finally pulling away.

The Lancers were picked to finish last in their division in the Big South conference, and played without leading scorer Tristan Carey (18.8 ppg), the only Longwood player who averages in double figures.

Steve Lavin
Steve Lavin's Red Storm must raise their level of play after Tuesday's ugly win.
St. John's shot 22-for-59 (37.3 percent) from the field, 3-for-19 (15.8 percent) from beyond the arc, and 18-for-30 from the foul line (60 percent), at home, against a team giving up 81 points per game. Fortunately, the arena was only half full.

It was the second lackluster performance in a row by the Red Storm, who struggled to defeat Monmouth here four nights ago, 64-54. But afterward, the players insisted it wasn't a matter of underestimating their opponents.

"Every game is serious to us. All over the country, teams are upsetting teams," said guard D'Angelo Harrison, who scored a game-high 18 points (but shot 6-for-19). "They played hard, give them credit, but we still found a way to win."

Coach Steve Lavin was far from discouraged.

"This is a game probably last year we lose, or the year before we lose," Lavin said. "But I think they're starting to understand that on a night when shots aren't falling, you still gotta generate a win through your defense and through staying together, and even if it's ugly, let’s get the W. That’s progress for this group."

There were some positives. St. John's tied a school record with 15 blocked shots -- six of them by Chris Obekpa. The Red Storm, who entered the game tied for second in the country in blocks per game (10.3), also had 15 against Monmouth.

St. John's also limited Longwood to 33.9 percent shooting from the field (19-for-56). But the Lancers were already a poor offensive team (252nd in Division I in scoring) with Carey, who sat out because of a sprained foot.

Red Storm freshman guard Rysheed Jordan returned from a one-game suspension, and had season highs in points (eight) and assists (four) in 17 minutes off the bench. But he shot 2-for-7 from the field, missed three free throws, had three turnovers, and was burned on defense a couple of times.

Lavin declined to go into detail on Jordan's suspension and reinstatement after the game. "I think he handled the suspension in a mature fashion, and came back to work with the right attitude," Lavin said. "[I'm] pleased that he took a step in the right direction tonight, and yet there’s also things he can work on."

(Lavin isn't making Jordan available to the media until late December.)

St. John's takes a step up in class now. The Red Storm will face Penn State on Friday in the semifinals of the Barclays Center Classic, and then either Georgia Tech or Mississippi on Saturday.

These are major-conference opponents, although not ones expected to make major noise in their respective leagues.

The Red Storm will need to play better to keep the winning streak going in Brooklyn. And they might want to attack the tin a little more, and shoot the trey a little less. They entered Tuesday night ranked 343rd out of 351 D-1 schools in 3-point percentage (23.7), yet still jacked up 19 long balls against Longwood and saw their percentage fall even further.

Even Harrison (3-for-11) shot poorly from deep. "We didn’t make shots tonight. That’s gonna happen some nights," Harrison said. "But it’s stuff we can control. All the stuff that's gone on with us are things we can control."

"I don’t look at it like, [I'm] just mad about 3’s, or happy or unhappy about 3’s. There are so many elements [to work on]," Lavin said. "We're not where we want to be. I wish we were 5-0, I wish we had got that Wisconsin game. But at the same time, I really like this team.

"I like the pieces, I like the flexibility we have to play different ways, I like their attitude and approach each day in practice. It’s just a good group to be around."

It's only November. This team's NCAA tournament aspirations are still intact.

But St. John's must put some better performances on film -- and hope the selection committee never sees this one.