St. John's desire to notch its first win of the 2010-11 season was briefly threatened by Columbia Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena before the Johnnies took over in the second half.
The Red Storm (1-1) neutralized the fighting Lions and posted a 79-66 victory for the home-opener of the inaugural year of the Steve Lavin Era.
St. John's got off to a sweet start. The Johnnies led by as much as 21-9 by the 10:57 mark of the first stanza. Pumped by the electric juices of D.J. Kennedy (18 points, six rebounds) and Justin Brownlee (15 points, four rebounds), St. John's appeared that it was on a walk in the park to steal candy from the baby.
However, Columbia stepped up from playing like passive house cats and proved worthy of their nicknames. In doing so, the Lions devoured the deficit.
Columbia, led by the dynamic Dyami Starks' fire from 3-point land, gave St. John's a scare when it went on a 17-5 run in the first half. With the surge, the visiting squad chipped down the advantage to tie at 26 with 6:11 left in the primary stanza.
Kennedy prevented Columbia from extending the lead when he poked loose the ball on a Lions' possession. Malik Boothe recovered the ball and assisted Kennedy on a basket to put the Johnnies up by a deuce.
However, despite the effort, Columbia took the lead for the first time at the 4:13 mark with a one-point advantage on a 3-pointer by Starks. The Lions led by as much as six points, 39-33, with 17 seconds before the break, but the Red Storm's Kennedy scored a quick basket to only trail by four points, 39-35, at halftime.
At this point, one question arose: Will Starks be the Clint Steindl (St. Mary's) of Columbia?
Looking for an answer to Starks' first-half rain (5-of-7 from the perimeter), St. John's locked down and shut out the outside shooter in the second half.
The strategy worked, as Starks' 15 first-half points would be his final point stats for the evening.
St. John's continued to put in work, with some help from rookie Dwayne Polee Jr. (10 points, all in second half, and nine rebounds) and further contributions from Malik Stith (11 points).
The Johnnies' advantage climbed to 13 points three times after the halfway mark of the second half. The last time being at the 6:31mark of the second stanza when Justin Burrell (six rebounds) ignited the crowd when he netted his lone deuce of the evening with a facial jam on Columbia's Mark Cisco that left him momentarily riding on his back.
Not ready to pack it in just yet. Columbia's Noruwa Agho (18 points, six rebounds) nailed a jumper to bring it within eight, 72-64, as late as 3:34 remaining in the game. However, a bucket by Brownlee and a steal by Boothe on the next possession prevented any late comeback.
St. John's extended its advantage to as much as 15 points, 79-64, on a strong dunk by Brownlee with only 45 seconds remaining.