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SJU struggles at Garden

St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey drives to the hoop during the second half against Arizona at Madison Square Garden last week. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
TimesLedger Newspapers

One of the big questions that has been swirling around the St. John’s men’s basketball team is how a young, inexperienced group would match up against some of the top teams in the country.

Well, they did just fine.

Although they lost 81-72 in their 2011 debut at Madison Square Garden, they played right with 15/16 Arizona last Thursday night in the semifinal of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

That was followed up by a disappointing 58-57 loss Friday to 18/19 Texas A&M in the consolation game that went down to the final seconds and featured a fatal foul-shooting flaw that has nagged St. John’s all year.

Malik Stith, the lone scholarship player returning from last year’s team, talked about the confidence his team has going into every game on Nov. 16, prior to the tournament.

He was right, confidence wasn’t the problem, but inexperience and a lack of depth certainly was. Head Coach Steve Lavin addressed some of those deficiencies after last Thursday’s game.

“The disappointment was the turnovers and some shot selection that we need to clean up in certain critical stretches, and then defensive discipline,” said Lavin.

A key point in the contest against Arizona was sophomore transfer Nurideen Lindsey’s fifth and final foul late in the second half, which took the Storm’s leading scorer on the day out of the game. Lavin’s team usually plays with just a seven-man rotation, leaving them one man short in a matchup that Lavin compared to a Big East Conference game.

Afterward, Lindsey was asked how playing with a depleted bench affects his mentality on the court.

“Still staying aggressive of course, pressuring the ball, just staying solid defensively, but just being a little smarter in situations like that,” said Lindsey.

On Friday, there was one stat that could directly be attributed to St. John’s one-point loss: they shot 22-38 from the free-throw line, which included two missed free throws by Lindsey with two seconds left in the game that could have either tied the score or put the Storm in the lead.

Lavin, however, refused to point fingers. He knows that for his team to win many of the mistakes have to be corrected and he’s confident that they can do so. Freshman Phil Greene echoed his coach’s sentiments after the game. He spoke about his reaction to Lindsey’s missed foul shots.

“We have a lot of confidence in Nuri [Nurideen] because he’s been carrying us this whole time,” said Green. “He will be ready next time.”

Although St. John’s didn’t come away with a win in the tournament, the 2K2 Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer was a success nonetheless. Since 1996, the event has raised almost $5 million. Lavin alone has helped raise more than $1 million for the event since March 2010.

Lavin had surgery to treat prostate cancer Oct. 6 and took leave of the team until Nov. 8. His doctors have talked to him about being mindful moving forward, but he doesn’t plan on missing any games this season.

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