- Kieran Darcy, ESPNNewYork.com
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NEW YORK-- St. John's had a new coach on Wednesday night -- and got the same result.
Steve Lavin, who missed the team's regular-season opener on Monday, returned earlier than expected and guided the Red Storm to a 78-73 come-from-behind victory over Lehigh.
Two nights ago, when assistant Mike Dunlap was in charge, St. John's trailed William & Mary 33-26 at intermission before turning it up several notches at both ends of the floor in the second half, winning going away, 74-59.
This game was even more of a nail-biter. St. John's trailed Lehigh by as many as 16 in the first half and was still behind 60-46 with 11:09 left before a furious late rally.
"Obviously there's an adjustment for me, as well as the players," said Lavin, who was away from the team for more than a month after undergoing prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. "In some ways probably, coming back and playing against a well-coached, well-prepared team that had us down 16 on our home court was better for us in terms of our learning curve and in terms of myself getting thrown right back in the fire."
The Mountain Hawks, picked to finish second in the Patriot League, looked outstanding over the first 30 minutes, burying shots from the perimeter and attacking the St. John's full-court defense with precision, leading to easy buckets.
But in the final 10 minutes they unraveled, as the Red Storm switched from their matchup zone to man-to-man and ratcheted up the defensive pressure.
"They continued in their attack mentality," Lehigh coach Brett Reed said. "They have the ability with their length and athleticism to pressure the basketball and also get out in the passing lanes."
Offense certainly wasn't a problem for St. John's on this night. The Red Storm shot better than 50 percent from the field in each half. And their leading scorer, forward God'sgift Achiuwa (21 points), was perfect -- 6-for-6 from the field and 9-for-9 from the foul line.
Rebounding was a problem -- Lehigh had a 32-26 advantage on the boards, including 15-6 on the offensive glass. But that's going to be an issue for the undersized Red Storm all season long.
The biggest question is, why the slow start for the second game in a row?
"I just don't think we came out ready," freshman forward Moe Harkless said. "I think it has to do a little bit with the youth."
"But the second half showed we have a lot of maturity, being able to fight through the whole game and not giving up," Harkless added. "So I think that if we just learn how to come out stronger, I think we'll do real well this year."
This entire season is going to be a learning process -- six new St. John's players learning the ropes, and all of us learning about them.
But we already know one thing about this group, just two games in: they've got a healthy dose of resiliency.
And they've got their coach back.
"I was proud of the poise they demonstrated," Lavin said, "and the determination to crawl back into the game and ultimately pull away and get a W."
15hPat McManamon and Jeremy Fowler