Less than two days after playing their hearts out on the other side of the country in a 76-71 loss to St. Mary’s, St. John’s returned home to Carnesecca Arena and battled a hot-shooting Columbia team in Steve Lavin’s first home game as head coach. Despite trailing the Lions by four at halftime, the Red Storm hit their best stride coming out of the locker room and held on down the stretch to preserve Lavin’s first victory at the helm of the Johnnies; a 79-66 decision over the Ivy League school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
“We wanted to get this one for Coach Lavin,” said senior Justin Burrell, who despite only scoring two points made an impact by stuffing a Malik Boothe alley-oop into the net to put St. John’s ahead 70-57 late in the second half. Fellow fourth-year player Paris Horne chimed in by saying his team needed the win because “no one wants to start 0-2.” D.J. Kennedy led the Johnnies with 18 points, while Justin Brownlee chipped in with 15 of his own. For the second consecutive game, Malik Stith and Dwayne Polee reached double figures with 11 and 10, respectively; which earned yet another round of praise from the head man. “I gave him the Woody Allen line: Half the battle in life is showing up,” said Lavin after the game when asked of Polee’s maturity.
The Red Storm engaged Columbia in a long-distance shootout early on, with Columbia shooting 53% (8-for-15) from beyond the arc in the opening stanza. Dyami Starks managed 15 points (all from long range) for Columbia in the first half, giving Lavin’s team flashbacks to Monday night/Tuesday morning when Clint Steindl was seemingly unstoppable from outside for St. Mary’s. Columbia used their outside trajectory to pull ahead late in the first half, and Lavin placed the blame squarely on his shoulders. “I think I oversubstituted and we lost our rhythm,” said the coach. “I’ll take the fault for us losing that lead.” After being outrebounded 26-17 through the first twenty minutes, St. John’s regrouped in the second half to outhustle the Lions on the glass 24-14 over the final frame. (41-40 overall)
Even with four Johnnies scoring in double figures and coming back from an early deficit, the night still belonged to Lavin after picking up his first win on the sidelines since 2003 just several hours after wrapping up his 2011 recruiting class with the signing of highly-touted prospect Amir Garrett. “I’ll keep it in the office upstairs,” he remarked after Burrell announced in the postgame press conference that the coach would be presented with the game ball following the final buzzer.
St. John’s (1-1) now prepares for the Great Alaska Shootout, and their first game in that tournament comes next week against Ball State.