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So far this year, nothing has come easy for St. John’s men’s basketball team.
That would include the Red Storm’s 56-50 win against Fordham at the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival that snapped a three-game losing streak.
On Dec. 8, it was announced that sophomore guard Nurideen Lindsey would transfer from St. John’s after playing just one semester, leaving the Storm with only six players who have played substantial minutes for their contest against the Rams. It didn’t help that junior Malik Stith sat out the first half of the game for a minor violation of team rules.
The team came together, however, and rallied around assistant Coach Mike Dunlap, who has stepped up in the last five games to replace Steve Lavin while he continues to recover from Oct. 6 surgery to treat prostate cancer.
With all the setbacks, Dunlap has been happy with the team’s progress.
“We’re moving forward, the intensity of practice has been at a high level, communication is up, they’re maturing nicely,” said Dunlap.
That progress was tough to spot early on in their matchup with Fordham until they erupted for an 11-0 run to end the first half and take a nine-point lead. The Storm would extend that lead to 16 in the second half.
With the unexpected transfer of Lindsey, every player has had to step up — perhaps no one more so than freshman Phil Greene, who has taken the reins of the point guard position. He has adapted well to the change by stepping up his communication with teammates and distributing the ball.
After the game, D’Angelo Harrison spoke about how Greene has already started taking on that leadership role.
“Right before he shot free throws, he was like, ‘Even if I miss, these we’re going to get a stop, because everybody is together,’” said Harrison.
Harrison was talking about the two free throws that Greene took with 26 seconds left in the game. One of the two was made to give the Storm a four-point lead and effectively end Fordham’s second-half run.
A common trend for the rest of the season will include a substantial increase in playing time for the St. John’s starters. Dunlap didn’t make a single substitution in the first half and Stith saw only four minutes in the second. Out of the six-player rotation, four players battled for the entire 40 minutes.
Harrison talked about the physical effects after the game.
“Actually, I’m feeling pretty good. We got a W so my energy is at a high right now, so I like it,” said Harrison.
That attitude might change through the duration of Big East play, which will begin Tuesday against Providence.
But Dunlap sees it another way, comparing his team to a “fine wine” that is maturing rapidly.
Freshman Moe Harkless, who finished with 13 points and 16 rebounds, seems to be up for the challenge.
“Once you get that second wind, I could keep playing another 40 minutes probably,” said Harkless.
©2011 Community Newspaper Group
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