Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK (AP) – St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin searched his memory banks but could not come up with a comparison.
He had spent the opening 20 minutes watching his veteran-laden team play as if they were complete strangers. Following a halftime speech in which he implored his team to play better, Lavin saw why his Red Storm squad is nationally ranked.
It was, Lavin said, “a tale of two halves” after D’Angelo Harrison scored 21 points and No. 20 St. John’s overcame a 15-point halftime deficit to rally past Saint Mary’s, 53-47, on Friday night in front of 4,645 fans at Carnesecca Arena.
“Tonight was as dramatic of ‘a tale of two halves’ as I can recall in my coaching career,” said Lavin. “As a result, we were fortunate to pull away with a win.”
The Red Storm (9-1) trailed 33-18 at the break. St. John’s opened the second half with a 27-8 run to take the lead.
Winners of five-straight games, St. John’s has now won nine-of-its first 10 games for the first time since 2009-10 when the squad finished 17-16 and reached the NIT.
Sir’Dominic Pointer added 11 points and 11 rebounds for St. John’s. Pointer’s defense on Brad Waldow in the second half limited the Saint Mary’s center to seven points after the break.
Waldow had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels (6-3).
“We need to work on being a tighter and tougher team,” Waldow said. “I feel like we went away [from what we did] in the first half.”
The Red Storm has won twice in three all-time meetings against the West Coast Conference team. The Gaels’ lone victory came on Nov. 16, 2010, in Lavin’s first game as the coach at St. John’s.
“Saint Mary’s is a well-coached and disciplined team,” said Lavin. “Waldow is as effective of a big man as there is. In a deliberate old-fashioned way he wears down opponents.”
Pointer’s two foul shots with 8:04 remaining gave St. John’s a 43-41 lead, its first edge since the early minutes.
The Red Storm’s defense sparked the run, forcing nine turnovers in the second half and limiting Saint Mary’s to 26.1 percent (6-of-23) shooting. St. John’s shot 46.4 percent (13-of-28) in the final 20 minutes.
“Coach talked to us at halftime and said that wasn’t St. John’s basketball. I think they scored 14 points in the second half. That’s St. John’s basketball,” Harrison said.
Dane Pineau cut the Gaels’ gap to 48-47 with a three-point play. Pointer came back with a jumper, and combined with Phil Greene IV to make three free throws in the final 11 seconds.
Waldow and the Gaels took their big lead by holding St. John’s to only six baskets in the first half. It took the Red Storm nearly 13 minutes to break into double-figure scoring.
St. John’s returns to action at Carnesecca Arena on Dec. 22 with a 7:30 p.m. game against Long Beach State. The game will air on CBS Sports Network.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.