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December 22, 2013

St. John's Escapes Attack of the Penguins

QUEENS, N.Y. --< St. John's was looking to begin streaking through the rest of non-conference play, but Youngstown State did not give up the goods to the Red Storm (8-3, 0-0 BIG EAST) that easily.

In fact, the Penguins (8-6, 0-0 Horizon) hung in with the Storm, preventing the Johnnies from obtaining a substantial margin until midway through the second half. For much of the contest, St. John's starters played in foul trouble, namely senior forward Orlando Sanchez.

Yet, St. John's head coach Steve Lavin was able to maintain aggressiveness with lineup changes to accomodate and preserve his best utility players, and grind out the 'W,' 96-87.

Lavin used a rotation that included anticipated redshirt, sophomore guard Felix Balamou in the absence of freshman guard Rysheed Jordan, who missed the contest with the Penguins to be by his mother's side while she is battling an illness in the hospital.

"A lot will have to deal with the state of her health," said Lavin of what will determine when Jordan returns.

According to Lavin, activating Balamou had nothing to do with the uncertainty of Jordan's return and everything to do with Balamou's ankle and individual progress. Lavin said it was discussed by the coaching staff and Balamou for several weeks, especially in the last few weeks since Balamou has been healthy and showing a consistently improved skill set.

"His performamce kept elevating; it tipped the scale to what we were looking for," said Lavin. "He's been so dominant in the last six to eight weeks... So, it really became a simple decision."

St. John's was able to use a 3-2 zone in the second half to slow down Youngstown, which displayed much efficiency from beyond the arc (5-of-9) in the first stanza.

As a result of the defensive switch and a better offensive effort from the team, the Red Storm acquired their largest lead of 14 points, 90-76, when junior swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer threw down an emphatic dunk at the 3:57 mark of the second half.

Throughout the contest, junior guard D'Angelo Harrison lit up the hardwood at many points of the floor, namely from the perimeter. The Johnnies were led by Harrison's season-high 29 points on 9-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-6 from beyond the arc.

"I had a lot of open shots," said Harrison. "Coach kept telling me to be aggressive, but be more efficient. So, I've done that the past two games and I couldn't do it without these guys."

Harrison surpassed St. John's former standout Willie Shaw (2000-03) with 156 career 3-pointers, now being the Storm's all-time leader in made treys.

"It's a beatable record, so I think somebody else will get it" added Harrison. "It's good to have it. Hopefully, I'll be able to hold on to it for a while."

St. John's sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson stepped up his game in the second half, getting to the line and knocking down some midrange buckets. He finished with 16 points and a game-high 13 boards.

Teammate junior guard Phil Greene IV thrived in transition, becoming a major component of the Red Storm offensive attack, pouring in 17 points on 7-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-2 from behind the arc. He also tacked on three assists and three steals.

The Penguins, which were looking to snap a three-game losing streak, were led by the 20 points of senior guard Kendrick Perry.

St. John's was knotted with Youngstown at 43 by the halftime break.

Youngtown State were hard to contain in the first half, attaining a five-point lead, 11-6, at the 16:03 mark. Although the lead slipped away from them, the Penguins alternated between a lead and a striking distance deficit.

Johnnies' Pointer, who along with Harrison, maintained the squad's offensive presence in the first half. He posted a career-high 16 points, as well as four assists and three steals.

"We're going into Christmas right now -- nobody wanted to go into Christmas with a loss," said Pointer. "Now, we can spend time with the family and not worry about a loss and wait for the next game."

Though the Johnnies were -7 (40-33) on the boards, St. John's finished 50.8 percent (30-of-59) from the field, including an impressive 66.7 percent (8-of-12) from 3-point range. Meanwhile, Youngstown shot 45.5 percent (30-of-66) from the field overall, including 37.5 percent from beyond the arc.

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