It was a game St. John's was supposed to win. However, in a season where incremental progress is key, no victory is taken for granted.
The Red Storm (7-3, 0-0 BIG EAST) seemed to be playing in a practice scrimmage, as the squad overwhelmed San Francisco with its smothering man-to-man pressure defense en route to a 81-57 win at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y. on Wednesday.
Johnnies' junior guard >D'Angelo Harrison, who tied the all-time St. John's record for career 3-pointers, led all scorers with 18 points on 5-of-8 from the field, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. Teammate sophomore forward JaKarr Sampson added 14 points.
Despite coming into the contest with the understanding that it was not playing a ranked opponent like it did when the team battled and lost to then-No. 2/3 Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, St. John's, who lost to the Dons, 81-65, on the road last season, showed much fight regardless of the competition disparity.
"Our key was to bounce back," said Harrison after the game. "Obviously we wanted to beat Syracuse, the No. 2 team in the country. They are a great team and they won. After the game, we flushed it and took care of business in this game."
At times, it looked as if the Red Storm were a heavyweight fighter plummeting their featherweight opponent, San Francisco, on the ropes.
The Johnnies' gritty and intense defense prevented the Dons (6-5, 0-0 WCC) from getting shots off. A series of St. John's runs in the second half upped the ante on San Francisco and made a comeback an impossibility.
Since the Dons could not get stops on the defensive end, the Red Storm were able to amass as much as a 28-point advantage at the 12:11 mark when a 3-pointer by senior swingman Marc-Antoine Bourgault capped a 10-0 surge and made the score 66-38.
"I liked our press," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin. "I think our pressure on the ball was better than it's been at any point this year."
St. John's, again, did not show great execution from beyond the arc, but the Storm were able to seal up other aspects of the game that all contributed to the squad dominating the game on both ends of the floor.
One glaringly beneficial stat was the Storm's ability to force 21 turnovers, which the Johnnies were able to convert into 27 points. St. John's did a great job at keeping the ball in motion and what Lavin calls "sharing the sugar," garnering 13 assists off of 29 field goals.
San Francisco's leading scorer 6-foot-7, 227-pound senior forward Cole Dickerson, who came into the game averaging nearly 22 points a contest on 63 percent shooting from the field over the Dons' last four games, was held to only four points in the game.
"We played hard; we didn't play well," said San Francisco head coach Rex Walters. "It's hard to win a game when your best player plays 15 minutes. He (Dickerson) got into foul trouble and I made a calculated risk to play him. We tried to protect him in the zone and he picked up a foul. We talked to our team about having more tact in those types of situations and I don't feel like we did that."
Having three players in double-figures -- Mark Tollefsen (14), Kruize Pinkins (12) and Chris Adams (11) -- San Francisco finished the game shooting 48.8 percent (20-of-41) from the field, including 45.5 percent (5-of-11) from 3-point range.
St. John's length was also a problem for San Francisco, as the Johnnies outmanned the Dons inside, netting +16 (40-24) in the paint.
Sophomore big man Chris Obekpa posted a game-high seven boards and four blocks to tack onto six points. As a result, the Storm finished +11 on the boards (35-24). Of the Johnnies' 35 rebounds, 15 were offensive boards that bridged over into 16 second-chance points.
The Red Storm shot 49.2 percent (29-of-59) from the field. The Johnnies even toed the free throw line 28 times, draining 67.9 percent of them (19).
St. John's senior forward Orlando Sanchez contributed to the hardwood grind posting 11 points to go along with six rebounds. Teammate freshman guard Rysheed Jordan, who was coming off of a breakout performance against Syracuse, added 10 points, four assists and three rebounds.
St. John's led San Francisco 43-31 at halftime.
After an early 4-2 San Francisco advantage, St. John's tied the matchup at six before taking the lead for good.
With 6:07 left in the first half, a 3-pointer by Harrison put the Red Storm up by nine, 33-24. That trey gave Harrison 151 career 3-pointers, tying him with former St. John's standout guard Willie Shaw (2000-03).
"St. John's has a lot of history and a lot of great players," said Harrison. "It is good to be recognized as one of them. It's a great honor and I share it with my teammates."
A free throw by Jordan put the Storm up by its first double-digit margin, 36-26, by the 3:49 mark of the first stanza.
St. Johns closed the first half on a 17-5 run.
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