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Saturday, December 17, 2011
Johnnies find second wind vs. Fordham

By Kieran Darcy
ESPNNewYork.com

NEW YORK -- Moe Harkless had just played the entire 40 minutes in only his 10th college game, scoring 13 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in a 56-50 St. John's victory over Fordham, yet the freshman forward said he didn't feel tired.

"Once you get that second wind," Harkless said, "it's like I could probably keep playing, play another 40 minutes."

It's a good thing St. John's did not need to play any more minutes, however, since four of its five starters went the distance Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. That's what happens when you have only six scholarship players on your roster and one of them -- junior guard Malik Stith -- is suspended for a half for a minor academic violation. St. John's did not make a single substitution in the first 20 minutes.

With adversity like that, let's face it -- any win is a good win.

"We have to figure out a way to win, and we did [today]," said assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who continues to run the team as Steve Lavin recuperates from prostate cancer surgery.

St. John's (5-5) and Fordham (4-6) traded the lead seven times in the first half before the Red Storm finished on an electric 11-0 run capped by a dunk from God'sgift Achiuwa, taking a 35-26 lead into the locker room. Tack on seven straight points to start the second half, and St. John's suddenly held a 42-26 lead with a little less than 17 minutes left in the game.

But Fordham, which stormed back from a 21-point deficit to beat St. John's last December, wasn't finished this time, either. The Rams whittled the deficit to three, 53-50, with 1:58 remaining, and had one possession to tie with just more than a minute to play. But Bryan Smith missed a game-tying attempt from beyond the arc, Achiuwa blocked the follow-up attempt by Chris Gaston and St. John's survived in the final minute.

"I don't think we were fatigued," said St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison, who had a team-high 15 points and played the full 40 minutes. "We were playing hard D. I don't think we could make a shot -- we were getting good looks; they just weren't falling when they were coming back."

St. John's did limit Fordham to just 29.7 percent shooting (19-for-64) from the field in the game. Also, despite Fordham being a much better rebounding team on paper, the Red Storm dominated the Rams on the backboards 51-37. Harkless' total was the highest for a St. John's player since Sean Evans collected 16 in a game three seasons ago. Every other starter had at least six boards.

"We rebounded by committee," Dunlap said, "and that's a real positive sign that we're growing."

The young players are surely growing, but the roster continues to shrink. This was St. John's first game since starting point guard Nurideen Lindsey announced Dec. 8 that he was transferring. Freshman Phil Greene is now the team's primary ball handler, and he had nine points, seven rebounds and four assists in -- you guessed it! -- 40 minutes Saturday.

The numbers weren't all rosy -- Greene also had four turnovers and shot just 4-for-15 from the field. But his teammates and coaches sounded impressed after the game. "By necessity, his evolution has to be rapid-fire," Dunlap said. "He's very understated, but he's very intelligent, and he's a good player. So, what a great opportunity.

"Part of the learning how to be the front door both offensively and defensively is gonna take some time. But boy, I thought he had great poise [today]."

Greene said the team has been working even harder since Lindsey left the squad. "We've been practicing longer," Greene said. "The emphasis has still been the same; we've been playing the same tempo. It's just, now that we're down a man, we have to be more in shape."

Stith's academic issue has been resolved, and St. John's is likely adding a player to the roster before its next game, against Texas-Pan American on Wednesday. Amir Garrett is a freshman forward and top-100 recruit who was declared academically ineligible for the fall semester. So the bench shouldn't be quite so empty going forward.

Nevertheless, conditioning will continue to be a major factor for this team the rest of the way -- along with avoiding foul trouble and injuries.

The margin for error is razor-thin. But remember, a St. John's team with nine seniors blew a 21-point lead to Fordham last season.

This team, with four freshmen and a pair of inexperienced juniors, found a way to beat Fordham on Saturday, snapping a three-game losing skid and picking up its first victory since Nov. 22.

Afterward, the St. John's players admitted it felt really good to get back in the win column.

And Harkless admitted, a couple of minutes later, that playing another 40 minutes might not be a good idea -- at least not right away.

"That might be a different story," Harkless said, laughing. "We probably won't feel the fatigue until tomorrow."

The learning process continues.