QUEENS, N.Y.- Freshman JaKarr Sampson led all scorers with a career-high 20 points and the Red Storm defense cranked up the second-half heat as St. John's turned a game tied at halftime into a 65-53 pre-Thanksgiving victory over Holy Cross.
"There were some real positives in the second half on both ends of the floor. We were tied together defensively with good communication which allowed us to pressure Holy Cross more effectively and take away their air space," said head coach Steve Lavin. "In the first half we didn't apply the necessary pressure on the ball, and as a result, they were able to pick us apart with their high-low game. They were getting easy basket after easy basket in the paint, but in the second half we were able to solve both our interior and perimeter defense."
Lavin had been looking for an intensified defensive effort from his young squad and received just that in the second stanza. The Red Storm allow just 23 second-half points on six second-half field goals. After allowing the Crusaders a comfortable 46.4 percent shooting mark in the first period, St. John's clamped down in the second to stymie the opposition into shooting only 30 percent over the final 20 minutes. After letting Holy Cross score 18 first-half points in the paint, the Crusaders managed only four down the stretch.
Sampson added a team-high seven rebounds to his career-high scoring and steals total (3), and led three St. John's players in double-figures. D'Angelo Harrison finished with 17 points, including 10 in the second half, while Phil Greene IV chipped in with 15 points on a 7-of-14 effort from the floor for St. John's (3-2). The Red Storm turned the ball over just six times, matching a season-low, and the defense recorded 10 blocked shots with six swats coming from game-changing paint patrolman Chris Obekpa.
Justin Burrell and Dave Dudzinski finished with 12 points apiece to pace Holy Cross (3-2), which finished shooting just 39.6 percent (19-of-48) from the floor and just 28.6 percent (6-of-21) from distance.
Sampson had the first bucket of the game to give the Red Storm a 2-0 lead, but the Crusaders made a pair of 3s as part of a quick 14-4 run to grab an eight point lead, 14-6, with 13:50 remaining in the half. A Cullen Hamilton 3-pointer gave Holy Cross its largest lead of the game, 23-14, at the 6:47 mark. St. John's answered, however, as Christian Jones and Harrison made two buckets apiece for an 8-0 run that brought the Red Storm to within one at 23-22. The Crusaders extended the lead back to four, but a Felix Balamou fastbreak layup and a Sampson jumper left the game tied at 30-30 going into halftime.
Following a meeting in Queens with Florida Gulf Coast (Saturday, Nov. 24, 7:30 p.m.), the Red Storm plays host to new South Carolina head coach Frank Martin and the Gamecocks on Thursday, Nov. 29 as part of the second-annual SEC/BIG EAST Challenge (7:30 p.m., ESPNU).