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AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
By Joseph Staszewski

St. John’s Coach Steve Lavin put the basketballs away at practice this week in preparation of his team’s first two home games of the year.

The third-year leader was unhappy with the Red Storm’s defensive effort in a season opening loss to Wisconsin, so St. John’s players said their practices this week were nearly 80 percent focused on the defensive side to prepare for matchups with Wagner, the favorite to win the Northeast Conference, Friday night and with Bucknell, which will be visiting Carnesecca Area Tuesday. Lavin would like to see his team defend better without fouling and better recognize where opponents’ shooters are on the floor.

“We’ve been working on rotations, getting the zone down and getting used to the new hand checking rules,” guard Phil Greene IV said. “It has been nonstop defense.”

The emphasis comes after the Badgers connected on 11 3-pointers, including two late in the second half to help push back a St. John’s rally. Wisconsin’s four-point lead ballooned back to 10. The Johnnies (0-1) made just two treys in the game. Junior wing Sir’Dominic Pointer said that’s not this team strength, but St. John’s needs to do a better job of stopping opponents from making 3-point shots.

“We made a lot of mistakes defensively and they capitalized on them,” junior guard D’Angelo Harrison said. “They’re correctable errors. We missed assignments. Every time we missed an assignment they buried a 3-pointer.”

Lavin believes Wagner will pose a different challenge, praising its speed and ability to attack the basket off the dribble. Harrison is looking forward to getting a chance to match up against Seahawks guard Kenneth Ortiz, the team’s second leading scorer. Bucknell already owns a road win over Penn State, and Tuesday’s game gives St. John’s a chance to assess how much they have improved defensively.

“I think in a week you can make some progress,” Lavin said. “How much we won’t know until we play the Wagner game.”

There could also be changes made to the Red Storm starting lineup of Harrison, Jamal Branch, JaKarr Sampson, Rysheed Jordan and Orlando Sanchez. That decision will be made based on recent practices as well as upcoming games. Lavin did not discuss specifics changes he was looking to make. He did praise the team’s 52-point second half against Wisconsin during which they committed just two turnovers. He called it one of the best by any team he’s ever coach.

Now he and his team would like to see progress on the other side of the floor after week of practice dedicated to defense.

“It was us getting better on the defensive end, letting us know that we can’t let that happen again,” Pointer said.

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