The youth movement – which had been in effect all season for St. John’s– might now need a nickname.
Playing possibly their most complete game of the season, St. John’s (9-11, 3-6 Big East) defeated West Virginia (15-6, 5-3), 78-62.
Halfway through the Big East schedule, the young team –St. John’s starting lineup consisted of all freshman – learned losses could quickly pile up during conference play. The team had lost four in a row and six of seven.
“You have to play have to play hard for 40 minutes in the Big East,” said Harrison. “No game is safe.”
The all freshmen lineup is one Head Coach Steve Lavin has been discussing in team meetings, telling Assistant Coach Mike Dunlap to go with it when he felt it.
Dunlap has taken the reins of the team as Lavin recovers from prostate cancer surgery.
While rare for a program to start five freshmen, it is not unprecedented.
“Unfortunately, in 1992 I saw the Fab Five and I didn’t like that much,” West Virginia Head Coach Bob Huggins said after the game. “I didn’t like this a whole lot more.”
St. John’s trotted out their own version of famed freshmen dubbed the “Wonder Five” in the late 1920s.
The still-developing team jumped out to an early lead for the third time in the last four games, but this time out was able to sustain that lead.
Prior to the game Dunlap laid out three goals for the team: play West Virginia even on the boards, run and make adjustments during the game – the team has struggled closing out games recently.
The Red Storm out rebounded West Virginia 25-18 in the first half while jumping out to a 16-point lead; they out scored the Mountaineers 22-5 in fast break points; and after the game Dunlap said he was pleased with the team’s defensive energy in the second half.
The Johnnies held West Virginia to just three of 14 shooting over the games first 12 minutes, allowing them to take an early 21-6 lead. The Mountaineers, who never got closer than nine in the second half, shot below 36 percent from the field for only the third time this year.
Moe Harkless led four Johnnies in double figures with 23 points.
Harkless outplayed West Virginia’s Kevin Jones, the Big East’s leading scorer and rebounder, on both ends of the floor in the first half while the Johnnies built their lead. Jones, a favorite for the Big East Player of the Year award, did most of his damage in the second half with the game out of reach, scoring 20 of his 26 points.
Speaking about Harkless after the game, the senior Jones said the first-year player impressed him and had a chance to develop into a really good player.
Harkless, 13 rebounds, recorded his seventh double double while adding three blocks. Phil Greene finished with a season-high 8 assists.
“Today we just played great,” Harkless said. “We’re getting better every game.”
The Johnnies now travel to Duke to take on the #6/8 Blue Devils Saturday at noon. St. John’s defeated Duke at MSG last season 93-78.