There is always an upside and a downside to having a team chock-full of new, top-shelf talent.
St. John's displayed both sides of the spectrum when it went toe-to-toe with the veteran-laden Murray State in the DirecTV Charleston Classic semifinal at the TD Arena in Charleston, S.C. The Red Storm (2-1, 0-0 BIG EAST) played long stretches with veteran ability but, in the final minutes of both halves of the matchup, the Johnnies showed their youth.
The Red Storm dropped the contest - its first of the season - against the Racers (3-0, 0-0 OVC), 72-67, after holding an eight-point lead, 57-49, as late as the 8:31 mark of the second half.
Murray State used a 12-0 run, sparked by senior forward Brandon Garrett's only field goal of the game at the 6:49 mark and capped with a 3-pointer by senior guard Isaiah Canaan (15 points), with 4:41 left in the game, to overcome a seven-point deficit, 59-52, to lead the Storm by five points, 64-59.
St. John's sophomore guard D'Angelo Harrison, who led his squad with a game-high 27 points on 8-of-21 from the field and nine rebounds, completed a conventional three-point play to come within two points, 64-62, with 3:39 left to play.
However, youthful mistakes and poor decision-making down the stretch prevented the Red Storm from overcoming the hump.
"We're still growing, we're still learning," said St. John's head coach Steve Lavin after the game. "We knew this would be a process with our young guys, but I love our team."
Murray State's senior forward Ed Daniel finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds.
A similar unraveling happened at the close of the first half when the Johnnies gave up a 13-3 run to the Racers going into halftime. As a result, the Red Storm watched their largest margin of the contest, 32-19, at the 3:09 mark diminish to just a three-point differential, 35-32, at the break.
What made St. John's so successful against the College of Charleston on Thursday in the Classic's quarterfinal was that the Johnnies kept their turnovers limited to six, forcing their opponent to commit 14.
Against Murray State, the role of turnover artist was played by the Johnnies. St. John's committed 14 turnovers, which the Racers exploited. Murray State only committed nine of its own.
The Johnnies played its best ball of the contest for the first 17 minutes of the first half. Lavin did a solid job managing his squad's minutes, including a breakout stretch by freshman guard Felix Balamou, who netted his six points in the span of about two and a half minutes. The fired-up Red Storm finished the first stanza shooting at a 50-percent clip (13-of-26) from the field.
A major contributor to the Johnnies on-court grind was freshman forward JaKarr Sampson, who finished with 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting and seven rebounds.
"It was a punch-counterpunch game, where we threw a punch and they threw a punch," said Lavin. "They ended up landing the haymaker."
St. John's dominant performance ended at the 2:53 mark of the first stanza when Murray State's senior forward Stacy Wilson (23 points) began his squad's surge after being fouled by Sampson at the three-point line and sinking 3-of-3 from the stripe.
Murray State used its 3-point shooting stroke to stave off St. John's. Wilson, Canaan and teammate junior guard Dexter Fields (11 points, six rebounds), who were responsible for the outside heat, combined on 10-of-29 from beyond the arc. The Racers finished shooting 41.5 percent (27-of-65) from the field overall. Meanwhile, St. John's, who was not as successful from behind the perimeter, shot 44.6 percent (25-of-56) from the field.
St. John's freshman big man Chris Obekpa, who played with foul trouble down the stretch, posted five points and six blocks in the game. Teammate Marco Bourgault played his first five minutes as a Johnnie, getting his feet wet at the 10:57 mark of the first half. He did not record a stat in any column.
The Johnnies will go on to play Baylor in the consolation game of the Classic on Sunday.
"I wouldn't trade our players for anybody's," said Lavin. "We'll learn from this one and get ready for Baylor."