By Joseph Staszewski
In St. John’s mind, there wasn’t a big mystery behind what led to its poor first half against Division II Franklin Pierce. Why it happened was a different story.
The Red Storm men’s basketball team watched Ravens forward Ryen Vilmont score 21 of his 29 points before halftime with help from five 3-pointers. St. John’s, which trailed by seven at the break, made a more conscious effort to shut him down in the second stanza after not coming ready to play out of the gate. Why weren’t they?
“We don’t know,” senior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer said. “We have to figure that out. We are going to keep that with us.”
St. John’s did eventually right the ship by scoring the first 21 points of the second half on its way to beating Franklin Pierce 94-81 in the opening game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Carnesecca Area Monday night.
“We said, ‘32 won’t score,’” senior guard D’Angelo Harrison said. “Like we just said, ‘Don’t let him score’. It got really simple.”
Harrison on the other hand exploded after the break. He scored 19 in the second half to finish with 31 points and 17 rebounds. Rysheed Jordan had 19 points and eight boards and Phil Greene IV added 18 points for St. John’s (2-0).
The Red Storm’s play was a stark contrast to its lackluster effort in the opening period. This time around it aggressively contested shooters, forced turnovers and really pushed the ball in the transition. The Ravens (2-1) were without a field goal until a Paul Becklens basket with 10:08 remaining in the game. St. John’s led by as many as 17 in the second half.
“Across the board in the second half that looked like the team that we can become as opposed to the first half where I was not pleased by our shooter awareness,” St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said.
The first half ended with Franklin Pierce up 50-43. As St. John’s struggled to score, driving into double teams and finishing at the rim, the Ravens calmly and meticulously picked apart the Red Storm defense and handled their press.
Franklin Pierce committed just five first-half turnovers and scored 11 points off St. John’s eight. Lack of frontcourt size and early Chris Obekpa foul trouble left St. John’s without out anyone to really challenge the Franklin Pierce guards at the rim.
“We were letting them get in the lane,” Pointer said. “They were driving and kicking. They were going right past us.”
Keeping that from happening again as the competition gets tougher is the challenge for a group that has had a history of slow starts. Harrison joked film, some yoga and a therapy session might do the trick to getting things right, but vowed they’d do whatever it took.
“We are going to fix it,” Harrison said. “That’s all I can say. We are going to fix it. We are an older bunch and we know that. It’s not like a mystery like last year. We know that know and we got to stop it.”