St. John's made "SportsCenter" again on Tuesday -- but it almost made bigger news.
A week after the Red Storm routed Division II C.W. Post 110-80 and two of their dunks were featured in the "Top 10 plays" segment on ESPN's flagship program, St. John's had to come from behind against Division III St. Mary's (MD), escaping with a 77-70 victory.
The St. John's players were looking at the bright side after the game.
"I definitely think we needed a game like this tonight," said sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey. "In our conference, it's gonna be tough games like this. So this was a good start for us tonight, to get used to how it's gonna be."
But this wasn't a Big East game. This was an exhibition game against a team from something called the Capital Athletic Conference. And truth be told, St. John's was fortunate to pull out a win.
The Red Storm led by just two points at halftime, 33-31, which surely surprised many among the 3,088 fans in attendance. But the real surprise came in the second half, when the D-III Seahawks kept on coming, burning down the shot clock and continuing to find a way to score. In fact, St. Mary's led this game by six, 54-48, with 9:11 remaining.
St. John's abysmal shooting was a big reason why. The Red Storm made just 22 of 42 foul shots on the night, and just 1 of 12 attempts from 3-point range.
"As for the free throws, they just weren't falling tonight,” said freshman forward Moe Harkless. "So we'll try to work on that and get better."
Harkless (20 points, 12 rebounds) actually made 10 of his 12 attempts -- the rest of the team was 12-for-30.)
Fellow freshman D'Angelo Harrison (12 points) -- touted as the best 3-point shooter on the squad -- shot just 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.
"I gotta get in more work," Harrison said. "I'm gonna be in the gym 24/7 this week."
The focus in practice this past week, however, was defense. And assistant coach Rico Hines, who spoke in head coach Steve Lavin's place after the game (Lavin remained at home, still recovering from prostate cancer surgery), said the team was much better on that end of the floor than they were against C.W. Post -- despite St. Mary's connecting on 13 3-pointers.
"I thought our guys did a good job of getting to their spots," said Hines. "With the type of [pressing] defense we play, some things we're gonna have to live with.
"They were a well-coached team, let's give them credit too. They did a good job, they made some tough shots from long distance."
St. John's now has five days to get ready for its regular season opener, Monday night against William & Mary. Hines believes this game will help in that regard.
"If you know William & Mary ... watching a lot of game film on those guys, they take the air out of the basketball," said Hines. "I think [St. Mary's] did a good job of taking the air out of the ball, especially when they got the lead. They just passed the ball around and made us guard them, and I think that's great preparation, it really is. And I thought our guys responded down the stretch."
Yes, give this extremely young St. John's team credit for pulling through in the end. But it's an early indication that this could be a season of extreme highs and lows.
"We're not going to think about this game too much longer, this game is over with," said Lindsey. "But once again, we're definitely satisfied with the way we played tonight."
They did get another dunk on "SportsCenter."
But this win certainly wasn't highlight-worthy.