Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
The buzz around St. John’s season opener wasn’t about the team’s first game or the return of Steve Lavin to the sidelines. Everything was centered around D’Angelo Harrison’s dismissal from the starting lineup due to disciplinary reasons.
It was evident from the start D’Angelo Harrison was missed with St. John’s failing to get a shot off in 35 seconds in their first offensive possession. Harrison picked up two quick fouls and sat for long stretches in the first half.
Dealing with offensive woes, St. John’s also had their hands full in defending Detroit’s Ray McCallum. In the first half, four different St. John’s players guarded McCallum. Sir’Dominic Pointer was designated the assignment first, followed by Amir Garrett, Phil Greene, and Christian Jones. The Red Storm centered their defensive game plan around the Titan’s leading scorer.
“We wanted to have a collective awareness at all times of where he was on the court. I thought while he had some stretches of impressive play, we made him work, and hence the 8 for 23,” said Lavin about defending McCallum.
McCallum had 17 points midway through the 2nd half and St. John’s was struggling to find an answer defensively when Steve Lavin went to a zone he used to run at UCLA.
St. John’s played a matchup zone that Lavin calls “quicksand,” one which utilizes the team’s length and prevents dribble penetration is something that he liked to run a majority of his career at UCLA. At the 9:19 mark in the 2nd half “quicksand” made its debut in Carnesecca Arena.
“There was a 7+ minute stretch where they only scored 4 points.” Lavin said, crediting the change in defense as the turning point in the game. “It was just enough to unnerve them.”
While the defense was fueled by Chris Obekpa breaking the school’s single game record, blocking eight shots, it was Harrison sparking the offense creating off the dribble. Harrison scored 13 of his game high 22 points in the final 8 minutes of the game.
Lavin admitted he is learning new things about his players and team with each and every day of practice but he knows his team is prepared to play all 40 minutes. While Lavin’s calls from the sideline may have guided the Red Storm to victory, it was really the preparation instilled into the players all off season. As Lavin said of his team,
“That’s a sign of our style of play. As well conditioned our kids are we can wear teams out and throw that haymaker late.”