QUEENS, N.Y. - St. John's ratcheted up both the defensive and rebounding efforts in the second half and D'Angelo Harrison scored a game-high 21 points as the Red Storm won its fourth-straight game by turning a 12-point halftime deficit into a 57-49 win against NJIT at Carnesecca Arena on Saturday afternoon.
After allowing the Highlanders to shoot 44.8 percent (13-of-29) from the floor and 60.0 percent (6-of-10) from long range in the first half to take a 35-23 lead into the break, the Red Storm allowed just 14 points on 6-of-30 shooting (20.0 percent) in the second stanza. The 14 points were the fewest allowed in either half by the Red Storm since surrendering just 14 on Feb. 6, 2008, in a 52-45 win against Rutgers. St. John's also improved the intensity on the glass, turning a -6 (21-15) first half margin into a +6 (48-42) margin for the game.
"This was really a tale of two halves. NJIT came with a great game plan, they executed with precision, brought aggressiveness and beat us to the punch in all aspects of play at both ends of the court in the first half," said head coach Steve Lavin. "In the second half, we reclaimed momentum because of our defense and aggressiveness, and by getting on the boards, blocking shots, communicating better, covering their shooters and containing their ball handlers. As a result we were able to not only come back, but pull away for a victory."
Harrison reached the 20-point plateau for the seventh time in the first eight games to lead St. John's (6-2), while freshman JaKarr Sampson posted his first-career double-double with 15 points and 17 rebounds, the most boards by a Red Storm player since Lamont Hamilton grabbed 17 against Niagara on Nov. 26, 2005. Chris Obekpa matched a career-high with eight points, pulled down six rebounds and also blocked five shots to pace a defensive team effort that matched a season-high with 12 blocks.
Ryan Woods finished with 16 points, including a 4-of-9 effort from distance, to lead NJIT (4-3). Terrence Smith posted a double-double with a 10-point, 10-rebound effort and Chris Flores added 10 points to give the Highlanders three players in double-figures.
St. John's turned things around quickly after the break and opened the second half on a 19-5 run to help turn the 12-point halftime deficit into a 42-40 lead at the 12:33 mark. Harrison paced the run with nine points on two jumpers, a 3-pointer and a layup. The Highlanders tied the game at 47-47 with 6:10 play and trailed by just one, 50-49, before a monstrous Obekpa slam with 3:25 to play gave St. John's a 52-49 lead and provided an early punctuation mark to the eventual victory.
St. John's next heads to San Francisco for a Dec. 4 clash at War Memorial Gym that tips at 10 p.m. E.T. The contest will air in the New York area on SNY. Lavin's father, Cap Lavin, was a standout at USF from 1949-52 under two Naismith Hall of Fame coaches, Pete Newell and Phil Woolpert. Cap Lavin is a member of the Dons Hall of Fame and will be honored in a special ceremony Tuesday at USF, along with the Dons' NCAA and NIT championship teams.