Lasting Impressions: St. John’s Outlasts St. Mary’s (Md.), 77-70

For thirty-six minutes, you would never have known that the team taking the court against St. John’s was a Division III program.

After being outplayed at times, and tested in every sense of the word, by St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the Red Storm used a quick 9-0 run late in the second half to pull away to a 77-70 victory in the final tuneup before their regular season opener Monday night against William and Mary.

Four players scored in double figures for the Johnnies, highlighted by the double-doubles from Moe Harkless (20 points, 12 rebounds) and God’sgift Achiuwa. (15 points, 10 rebounds)

“We’re definitely satisfied with the win, but we understand that we have to continue to get better,” said sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey, who chipped in with fourteen points on a 6-of-12 shooting effort.

Devin Spencer led St. Mary’s and all scorers with 25 points, including five three-pointers.

For a Red Storm coaching staff still without the in-game services of head man Steve Lavin, the close outcome was clearly a step in the right direction.

“Every game is going to be a new game for them,” said assistant coach Rico Hines after the game. “Give St. Mary’s credit, they shot the ball well. Sometimes we just have to live with that. They’re a well-coached team.”

For a while, it looked like the Seahawks would start to pull away from St. John’s, but the length and athleticism of the Red Storm ultimately proved to be too much for the small school from Maryland. More highlights from this exhibition contest can be found in the latest installment of our Lasting Impressions.

Lasting Impressions

– The normally stable ball control displayed by St. John’s took the night off, as the Johnnies were rattled by St. Mary’s in the early going. St. John’s won this game with a (-4) assist to turnover margin, with nine assists compared to committing thirteen miscues.

– Despite a 1-for-12 performance from three-point range and a 52 percent clip at the free throw line, the Red Storm used their big men and inside presence to win the battle of the boards with a plus-14 rebounding margin. Of the Johnnies’ 48 rebounds, seventeen of them came on the offensive glass.

Moe Harkless has established himself as the primary rebounder after his second consecutive double-double, posting 20 points and 12 rebounds. If the freshman can sustain this kind of productivity against Big East competition, he will fight UConn’s Alex Oriakhi and Seton Hall’s Herb Pope for the conference rebounding title.

– Finally, the game ball will go to Chris Harney. The little-known St. Mary’s head coach played this game as if it were an NCAA Tournament matchup, and his players executed accordingly. St. Mary’s did a great job killing the clock and forcing St. John’s to step up their efforts on defense in the second half, much to the surprise of the Carnesecca Arena crowd. If St. Mary’s can replicate efforts like this one, don’t be surprised to see Harney at the helm of a low or mid-major Division I program in the near future.

Quotes from St. Mary’s head coach Chris Harney:

On the Overall Experience:
“On the whole, we’re really proud of our guys. We’re grateful for the opportunity that Coach Lavin gave us and I really think both teams got a lot out of it.”

On Matchups:
“To be honest, we put that offense together in a few days to counter the matchup zone that St. John’s runs. Just implementing it in a few days, I thought we did a real good job.”

On Being Ahead In the Second Half:
“You know, my job as a coach is to keep things even-keel. I don’t want the guys to get too high or too low, emotionally. I was sensing that they were getting a little too high, so I was trying to bring it back somewhere in the middle.”

On Where St. Mary’s Goes From Here:
“We set the bar really high, that’s what I told them after the game. We’re stepped up our bar as a performance and we have to carry that into the season. We’re always trying to evaluate ourselves and see where we can improve.”

Lasting Impressions: St. John’s defeats C.W. Post 110-80 in Exhibition

It was the start of a new era on Tuesday night, and if these forty minutes are any indication, it’s going to be one fun ride on the corner of Union and Utopia this season.

On a night where the new-look Red Storm took the court for the first time since losing to Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, each of the six members of head coach Steve Lavin‘s recruiting class scored in double figures as St. John’s tallied a resounding 110-80 victory over Division II opponent C.W. Post of Long Island.

Led by God'sgift Achiuwa (left), Nurideen Lindsey (center), and D'Angelo Harrison (right), St. John's defeated C.W. Post 110-80 in an exhibition Tuesday night. (Photo: Daniel Martin/JohnnyJungle.com)
“I was pleased with the first outing,” said assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who filled in for Lavin while the coach continues to recover from successful surgery to treat prostate cancer. “The players feel pretty good about the work they put in.”

Junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa was the first to make an immediate impact, leading the team with 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting. “I didn’t expect it to come so easy,” said the Nigerian-born big man, who was serenaded by chants of “God’s on our side!” from the St. John’s student section. “That really got me going.”

St. John’s took their time trying to establish their identity early, before using their athleticism and length to wear down C.W. Post in the second half. More of what this team is all about and what to expect in the second of two exhibition games next Tuesday against Division III St. Mary’s of Maryland will be explained in tonight’s lasting impressions, which returns to this space for its first full season.

Lasting Impressions
– St. John’s was 11-2 when at least four players scored ten or more points in a game last season. Tonight, six (all six members of the new recruiting class) provided double-figure scoring efforts, marking the first time this many players accomplished this feat in Steve Lavin’s brief tenure. Included in that group for the Red Storm were three players (D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene, and Achiuwa) who posted 20-point performances. As a team, the team shot a staggering 66 percent (50-for-76) from the field.

– Despite only collecting 36 rebounds as a team, the big men did what they had to do to keep St. John’s in the game. God’sgift Achiuwa (21 points, nine rebounds) and Moe Harkless (14 points, 14 rebounds) provided the right mix of offensive and defensive productivity, but accumulated seven fouls between them. If Achiuwa and Harkless can stay out of foul trouble as the season progresses, (Harkless racked up two offensive fouls in the first eight minutes) St. John’s will have an inside presence to stand up to the size mismatches that will favor Big East adversaries the likes of Connecticut and Syracuse.

– Following a week of quiet confidence that established him as one of the early leaders on this young team, D’Angelo Harrison (20 points, four assists) struggled to find his shot early on. Noted for his long-range prowess, Harrison only made two of his seven triple attempts, but started to heat up down the stretch when he drained mid-range jumpers and a trifecta from the left corner late in the second half. When used correctly, Harrison could be a dangerous slasher in the Jeremy Hazell/Corey Stokes mold.

– The biggest and most pleasant surprise came from Phil Greene, who picked up the game ball with his 20 points on an 8-of-10 shooting effort that included a 4-for-6 showing from beyond the arc. Greene was quick to credit his teammates after the game for giving him open shots to set up his high offensive output. “I just wanted to let the game come to me,” the combo guard from Chicago said.

– Finally, there was something very noticeable when watching this St. John’s team run up and down the court in transition. Given their eight-man rotation, they bear more than just a striking resemblance to the 2008-09 Seton Hall squad coached by Bobby Gonzalez. That year’s Pirates team was a guard-heavy team that also ran eight men much like St. John’s, and was capable of scoring 90 points on any given night. The biggest difference at this stage is that St. John’s lacks the experience that the Seton Hall players had under their belts.

Realignment Talk Dominates Big East Media Day

Since last month’s bombshell announcement that Pittsburgh and Syracuse would be defecting to the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big East realignment and the future of college basketball as we know it has dominated the sport’s headlines, almost daily.

At the 2011 Big East Media Day in Manhattan, realignment was not just the topic du jour; it was the story.

Rick Pitino was vocal about Syracuse and Pittsburgh flocking to the ACC. (Photo: Daniel Martin/Johnny Jungle)
Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who is no stranger to being openly outspoken about the state of the Big East, got the ball rolling by mentioning the tactical error former Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese made in the most recent Big East expansion.

“If any mistake was made, it was not having the foresight years ago to bring in people with football and basketball,” said Pitino in reference to the addition of Marquette and DePaul. “Ten years ago, we just thought basketball, basketball, basketball.”

Pitino was only just getting started, however, as he went on to lay out his true feelings regarding the decisions of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to jump ship. “I have no problem with them leaving,” said the brutally honest Pitino. “My problem is they made a decision in 36 to 48 hours. This was not a football decision, this was a basketball decision to strengthen the ACC.”

Notre Dame head man Mike Brey, the conference’s reigning Coach of the Year, was confident that his Fighting Irish program would find a home if the Big East disintegrates, but at the same time wanted to stay where he stands.

“We’ve got a strong identity after five years of figuring it out,” Brey said. “As proud as I am of being the coach at Notre Dame, I’m as proud of coaching in the Big East.”

Brey did exude confidence when he said Notre Dame would “land on its feet” wherever the school decided to seek affiliation, and also provided one of the quotes of the day regarding the entire situation.

“You know how you’re listed ‘day-to-day’? Leagues are listed day-to-day now.”

Reigning national champion Connecticut has been the topic of speculation, as well, after reports linked UConn to the ACC, but head coach Jim Calhoun insisted his team was in the Big East for the foreseeable future.

“We’re in the best basketball conference in America,” remarked an emphatic Calhoun. “That’s where we want to play, and that’s what we look forward to doing.”

Calhoun also served up a dose of truth when approached about the role of gridiron success manipulating the massive shuffle. “It’s cleats, helmets and shoulder pads that are affecting us more than any of us would like,” Calhoun said, bluntly.

Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin, who brought the Bearcats back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six years, offered this piece of candor when it was his turn to face realignment questions.

“You’ve got a whole lot of people that probably never felt so powerless in their life,” said Cronin. “We need it to solidify sooner rather than later.”

Villanova’s Jay Wright spoke from the heart in regard to coaching brethren Jamie Dixon and Jim Boeheim leaving the conference that their programs have been members of for over thirty years. “Jamie made his name in the Big East,” stated Wright. “If you make your name in the Big East, you’re a hell of a coach. Jim Boeheim, to me, is the Big East. We’re missing a lot with these guys.”

Perhaps the most refreshing analysis regarding the widespread conference movement came from the man who is just walking into the fire.

After five seasons as the head coach at Fairfield, Ed Cooley was not timid or shy in his first Big East media day at the helm of Providence College, delighting those who came to his table to get a glimpse of this year’s Friars team with his impactful sound bites and positive bravado. When realignment was brought up to Cooley, he first said that the issue was something his institution had no control over, then had this to say:

“It is a little wild, but that’s what makes it great. I think we all need wild in our life. It keeps it spicy.”

At the rate things are going, the bottle of preseason hot sauce that is spicing up Big East basketball, without a game even being played yet, is a long way from empty.

St. John’s Red Storm 2011: The Story of Eight Men On a Mission

The St. John’s University men’s basketball team may be short-handed with just eight scholarship student-athletes on the roster, but the common goal of replicating last year’s NCAA tournament appearance remains atop the list of priorities for the six first-year players, one returning letter winner, and a former walk-on that will open the 104th season of Red Storm hoops on November 7th as the youngest squad in program history.

A capacity crowd showed up for St. John's Tip Off Friday night. (Photo: Daniel Martin/Johnny Jungle)
Malik Stith, who enters his junior season as the last man standing from both last year’s core of players and the Norm Roberts era, has taken on the responsibility of serving as a mentor to the rookies.

“I’m trying to make them as comfortable as possible,” said Stith, prior to last night’s annual Red Storm Tip Off. “This is like a ‘super’ AAU team. There’s so much talent.”

As talented as the Red Storm may be, they were dealt another blow during the offseason when head coach Steve Lavin was diagnosed with prostate cancer. The coach underwent a successful surgery to combat the affliction nine days ago, and is on the road to recovery.

In his absence, a prepared statement from the coach was read to a sellout crowd at Carnesecca Arena by freshman forward Moe Harkless; and the crowd sang along to the classic Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin’” when Lavin’s name was announced.

“We’re waiting for the day that he comes back,” said Malik Stith. “That’s our leader.”

Lavin’s team will be run primarily by assistant coaches Mike Dunlap and Rico Hines, but Lavin still wields considerable influence in practice.

“It’s his program,” said Hines, who played for Lavin at UCLA. “Whatever he wants, he gets.”

Hines declined to give a return date for Lavin, but did state that the coach, “won’t stop texting me. He’s getting better each and every day. He’s going to play it by ear.”

When asked about the pressure of competing with just eight players for the first two months of the season, Hines admitted the inherent difficulty in preparation; but remained optimistic about what lies ahead.

“We can’t run them into the ground,” he said. “We’re going to have to be smart.”

Sophomore point guard Nurideen Lindsey reinforced the team-first concept that last year’s group of players came to embody under Lavin. “The guys understand that we have to pick up and force ourselves to get better each day,” said a visibly-confident Lindsey. “No one player in this class was recruited to do something individually. Winning is the big picture.”

St. John’s seems to be talking the talk amid the adversity they have had to face since they arrived on the corner of Union and Utopia. All that remains to be seen is how well they can walk the walk when they take the court three weeks from Monday for the opening tip of the 2011-12 season.

Sean Evans Goes Pro, Signs In Germany

In the wake of St. John’s Round of 64 loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament, the focus surrounding the ten-man senior class, guided to national relevance by head coach Steve Lavin, shifted to how many fourth-year Johnnies would move on to the professional level.

Sean Evans becomes the fifth St. John's graduate from the Class of 2011 to sign a professional contract to play overseas. (Photo: Icon/SMI Select)
After the starting backcourt of Paris Horne and Dwight Hardy were first to sign overseas, reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year Justin Burrell and swingman Justin Brownlee were next to make the jump to professional basketball.

It only seemed fitting that the man to wear jersey No. 5 would be the fifth Red Storm graduate to sign a contract. And, after two weeks of tryouts, the dream has come true for Sean Evans.

Evans officially accepted a deal with the Dusseldorf Giants of Germany’s Pro A League this past Tuesday, indeed making him the fifth from the St. John’s Class of 2011 to play professional basketball this season.

The Pro A League is the German version of the NBDL, as it works to funnel players into the German Bundesliga, where Evans’ senior classmate Paris Horne currently plays with BG Gottingen.

“I am very excited to be playing professionally and opening this new chapter of my life,” said Evans in a press release. “I am excited and humbled at the same time. I want to thank all of my coaches at St. John’s, they taught me so much.”

Evans’ head coach offered a testimonial, as well, when approached for comment about the Philadelphia native’s life-changing decision.

“We are pleased that Sean has received this well-deserved opportunity to play professional basketball,” remarked Steve Lavin. “His improved play was a key to our late-season surge and push into the NCAA Tournament. We are confident that Sean will take the lessons learned last year and add true value to his new team.”

Evans, a bruising 6-8, 259-pound forward, established himself among the Red Storm’s most consistent performers as a junior in 2009-10, and his 11 career double-doubles included an 11-point, 12-rebound effort vs. Syracuse in the 2011 BIG EAST Tournament.

His knack for big-game play included averaging 13.8 ppg and 9.5 rpg while shooting 67.7 percent from the field and 76.5 percent at the free throw line in four games across his junior and senior BIG EAST Tournaments, and his 10-point, 5-of-5 field goal effort in St. John’s 93-78 victory over No. 3/3 Duke on Jan. 30, 2011 at a sold-out Madison Square Garden was one of the shining moments in what would come to be the Red Storm’s biggest win at the Garden in nearly a decade.