New York Colleges: Holy Cross Crusaders

Sampson sparks St. John's vs. Holy Cross

November, 21, 2012
NEW YORK -- It was an ugly win, with a major bright spot.

St. John’s had to scratch and claw its way past Holy Cross on Thanksgiving Eve. But Red Storm freshman Jakarr Sampson looked like an emerging star, dazzling the 4,030 fans at Carnesecca Arena who watched a 65-53 victory.

With the win, St. John’s improves to 3-2, after suffering back-to-back losses to Murray State and Baylor at the Charleston Classic last weekend.

Eight days ago, in the season opener against Detroit, Sampson scored just two points, shooting 1-for-7 from the field.

Wednesday night, Sampson was the best player on the floor, with 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

"His poise, his maturity is developing right before our eyes," said St. John's coach Steve Lavin.

The 6-foot-8, 204-pound Sampson arrived in Queens with the reputation of being a freakish athlete, who would be an electric finisher on the fast break. But on Wednesday Sampson displayed a potent jump shot -- with the ability to pull up in transition, or face-up after receiving the ball in the post, and knock it down.

Sampson said he’s been dedicating a lot of practice time to his perimeter game. “I really wanted to work on my shot, so I could have the respect of other players who try to play off me,” Sampson said.

The hard work has clearly paid off. Sampson connected on 10 of his 15 field goal attempts against Holy Cross. And St. John’s needed someone to step up on a night when leading scorer D’Angelo Harrison, the team’s resident marksman, shot just 6-for-18.

If Sampson can develop into a reliable second scorer, St. John’s will be a much more dangerous team going forward.

There are still reasons to worry. St. John’s fell behind by nine in the first half, giving up easy baskets to a Holy Cross team that came in shooting 33.9 percent from the field. That ranked the Crusaders 342nd out of 347 Division I squads.

This game was tied at halftime, and Holy Cross remained within striking distance until the final couple minutes. The Red Storm tightened up the defense in the second half, increasing their ball pressure, but the Crusaders still outrebounded them, 35-31.

"I think our lack of size would be my biggest concern," said Lavin.

St. John’s is still waiting to hear back from the NCAA on the eligibility of junior college transfer Orlando Sanchez, a 6-foot-9 power forward who could really help the Red Storm on the boards. But as the days continue to pass, it appears more and more unlikely that Sanchez will suit up for St. John’s this season.

Sampson, on the other hand, will be in the lineup every night (barring injury). And Lavin thinks he can have as much impact on this team as Moe Harkless, last season’s Big East Rookie of the Year, now with the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

"He's got a wonderful spirit and energy as a person," Lavin said. "But then we also see that in his game, in terms of, he plays the game as though he has springs under his feet."

Sampson sprung St. John’s to a victory Wednesday night. Not bad for a guy in just his fifth college game.

Rapid Reax: St. John's 65, Holy Cross 53

November, 21, 2012
What it means: It's a win, but it wasn't pretty.

St. John's had to scratch and claw its way past Patriot League foe Holy Cross on Wednesday. But the Red Storm got the job done in the end, with a 65-53 victory.

The film review will reveal plenty to work on. But after back-to-back losses to Murray State and Baylor in Charleston over the weekend, these young Johnnies really needed a W. The Thanksgiving turkey will taste much sweeter now. They're now 3-2 on the season.

The skinny: St. John's trailed for much of the first half, by as many as nine (23-14). They rallied to tie the game at 30 at intermission, but gave up way too many easy baskets in the first 20 minutes of play.

The Red Storm scored the first five points of the second half, but the Crusaders didn't back down, answering with seven straight themselves. St. John's finally pushed the lead into double-digits on a Jakarr Sampson bucket just before the final media timeout of the game, and the Red Storm put it away from there.

Star watch: Sampson had his finest game yet -- the freshman scored a career-high 20 points, shooting 10-for-15 from the field. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and three steals. Sampson was active on both ends of the floor, and displayed a potent jump shot, in addition to his ability to get to the rim.

D'Angelo Harrison added 17, but had an off night shooting the basketball, finishing 6-for-18 from the field.

Number crunch: Freshman Chris Obekpa, who had a school-record eight blocked shots in the first game of the season, added six more Wednesday. St. John's had 10 blocked shots as a team, and forced 18 Holy Cross turnovers.

What's next: St. John's will host Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., back here at Carnesecca Arena.

W2W4: St. John's vs. Holy Cross

November, 21, 2012
Here are three things to watch for when St. John's (2-2) faces Holy Cross (3-1) on Wednesday at Carnesecca Arena.

Tip-off is at 7:30 p.m., and you can watch the game locally on SNY, or via ESPN3.

BUSY BODIES: St. John's is playing its fifth game in nine days, and trying to rebound from back-to-back losses to Murray State (72-67) and No. 16 Baylor (97-78) at the Charleston Classic. The Red Storm had the Murray State game in their grasp and let it slip away late. And they actually hung with Baylor for most of the game as well, trailing by just one point with 6:40 remaining. But it's important for this young St. John's team to avoid a losing streak and get back in the win column.

It's the day before Thanksgiving, and it's a Patriot League opponent, but the Red Storm better be dialed in. It's an important game. (And Holy Cross has had a week off to rest and prepare.)

BIG SURPRISE: Everyone expected sophomore guard D'Angelo Harrison to have a big season, and he has delivered thus far, averaging 22.5 points per game.

But fellow soph Phil Greene IV has really opened eyes with his improved play. Through four games, he is averaging 14.5 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists -- excellent all-around numbers. He is coming off a career-high 24 points against Baylor.

Greene shot just 36.7 percent from the field as a freshman, but has upped that number to 45.3 so far. He says an undisclosed wrist injury hampered him last year, but the wrist is healthy now. If he can keep this up, St. John's will have one of the best backcourts in the Big East, even before adding Texas A&M transfer Jamal Branch in December.

THE CRUSADERS: Holy Cross was picked to finish fourth in the eight-team Patriot League in the conference's preseason poll. It's played four very close games thus far -- wins over Old Dominion (46-45), Morgan State (74-73) and Maine (57-54), and a loss to Texas-San Antonio (60-56).

The Crusaders have a balanced attack offensively, led by 5-foot-9 sophomore guard Justin Burrell, who's averaging 12.5 points per game. Also scoring in double figures are 6-foot-9 senior center Phil Beans (11.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and 6-foot-9 junior forward Dave Dudzinski (11 ppg, 8.8 rpg).

Holy Cross is shooting just 33.9 percent from the field as a team. That ranks them 342nd in Division I, out of 347 schools.