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Youthful Red Storm ends stretch surging

St. John's guard D'Angelo Harrison (r.) and Baylor's A.J. Walton battle for a loose ball during an NCAA college basketball game at the Charleston Classic. AP Photo/Alice Keeney
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The signs and symptoms of youth have had a tendency to show themselves at St. John’s, comprised almost entirely of underclassmen, in the first five men’s basketball games this season.

Saturday night against Florida Gulf Coast was no exception, but the Red Storm overcame its early struggles.

The talented Red Storm battled back from a slow start to win comfortably over Florida Gulf Coast 79-68 in front of 4,003 fans at Carnesecca Arena. The victory ended a grueling stretch of games.

“That’s the first time in my career I’ve had a team play six games in 12 days,” Lavin said. “I told the kids we’d rather be 6-0 or 5-1, but we’re 4-2.”

St. John’s (4-2) had a balanced scoring attack with four different players in double figures, including a career-high 15 points from sophomore Sir’Dominic Pointer. He also tied a career-high with six assists and added three blocks.

“The offense just came tonight,” Pointer said. “When I play defense, my offense will eventually come.”

The Red Storm needed that offensive spark. They trailed by as many as 11 points with 8:50 remaining in the first half after shot-blocking freshman Chris Obekpa sat with two fouls. Senior Bernard Thompson led the Eagles (4-3) with 20 points.

St. John’s turned up the defensive pressure in the last 3:45 of the first half, ripping off a 10-1 run to head into the break tied at 32-32. Lavin knew things had to be better after the break.

That momentum carried over. St. John’s went on an 11-2 run over a four-minute span that put the Red Storm ahead for good at 55-47 with 10:04 left in the game Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison struggled shooting in the first half, but was key in that second half run with five points. He finished with 20 points, all but two of which came in the second half after he faced a box-and-one before the break.

“Coach Lavin made some adjustments [in the] second half and my teammates were finding me,” he said. “After I hit a couple shots, I get going and everybody gets going, too.”

St. John’s also welcomed production from freshman JaKarr Sampson, who had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting from the field. The performance marks his fourth straight game scoring in double figures after starting the season off slow. Lavin says, the early jitters are gone.

“I think he’s slowing down and taking a deep breath,” the coach said. “He’s letting the game come to him, make choices with better judgment.”

He has watched Sampson grow along with the rest of his young team. Their win over Florida Gulf Coast proved to be another step forward.

“Given where we are as a program and this particular team, I’m pleased with their progress,” Lavin said.

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