City Sports Report

St. John’s Red Storm February Frenzy makes case for March Madness

Sir'Dominic Pointer has Red Storm Surging (Photo by Herbert Delancey)

By Jason Schott  (Follow Jason on Twitter @JESchott19)

The St. John’s Red Storm outlasted the Xavier Musketeers, 58-57, in a thriller on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, and they have won five out of their last six games.

St. John’s Head Coach Steve Lavin said of the contest, “It was a donnybrook of a Big East game.  I’m pleased that we were able to come away with a victory.  It was a gut-check victory for our kids and another step in the right direction.”

Lavin continued discussing the game.  “I really like this team.  I think we’ve played really good basketball this season – but clearly after the 11-2 start we labored through a stretch where we were banged up. It’s been the most injured team I’ve had in my coaching career. In recent weeks we are returning to being closer to full strength and having our full complement of players.”

The Red Storm have had a remarkable turnaround from late January, when they were 2-5 in Big East play. Starting with a win over Providence on January 31, 2015, they have won six out of eight and are now 8-7 in Big East Conference play and 19-9 overall. With this win, they passed Xavier for fifth in the Big East standings.

Sir’Dominic Pointer said of this run, “I think that’s a tribute to Coach Lavin.  He gets us ready for February.  Most teams peak in December or January. I don’t think we have played our best basketball yet. Hopefully we’ll be rolling by the time the Big East Tournament comes around.”

This game was one of many ups-and-downs. Xavier came out firing and lead 13-2 in the opening five minutes. St. John’s responded with a 13-0 run to take a 15-13 lead on a Sir’Dominic Pointer jumper with 7:50 left.

After James Farr tied it at 15 with a layup, St. John’s went on a 7-0 run capped by a D’Angelo Harrison jumper with 4:33 left in the first half. St. John’s kept it going, and closed the half on a dunk by Rysheed Jordan with 10 seconds left, giving them a 28-20 lead at halftime, a 26-7 run from when they trailed 13-2. Pointer led the way with 13 points (6-9 FG) in the first half.

D’Angelo Harrison got things going for St. John’s with a layup at the 19:02 mark to make it 30-20. Xavier held St. John’s scoreless for the next 6 minutes and 37 seconds and went on a 15-0 run to take a 35-30 lead. Harrison broke the scoreless streak with another layup that made it 35-32 Xavier with 12:25 left.

St. John’s got the lead back on a Harrison three with 6:32 remaining that made it 45-43. That would be short-lived as Trevon Bluiett hit a couple of free throws to tie it at 45 with 6:09 left. Blueitt got back to the line at the 5:24 mark and hit one of two free throws to make it 46-45 Xavier. After Harrison made a couple of free throws, Xavier got the lead back, 48-47, on a Myles Davis layup with 4:49 left.

Phil Greene IV stepped up and drained a three to give St. John’s a 50-48 lead with 4:40 left. Rysheed Jordan stepped up and got a layup followed by a jumper with 2:21 left to make it 56-53 St. John’s. Pointer followed that with a layup that gave them a five-point edge, 58-53, with 1:45 left. Pointer also did it on the defensive end with a big block on Dee Davis with 32 seconds left to preserve a 58-55 lead.

One of the mystifying things about Xavier is how their center Matt Stainbrook has no inside presence. With 23 seconds left, Stainbrook found himself out at the free throw line and he gave it up to Trevon Bluiett under the hoop for a layup, and he was met instantly, by two Red Storm defenders, one of which, Jordan, fouled him to send him to the line.

Bluiett hit both free throws to cut it to one, 58-57. With the 35-second shot clock turned off, Xavier needed to foul, but they let St. John’s inbound it and take it up court. Harrison dribbled it past the midcourt line, and Xavier’s Remy Abell stripped the ball from him with 16 seconds left.

Xavier had plenty of time to win it, but the final possession was a chaotic one, as Stainbrook got decked and wound up on the court, the ball came loose and Chris Obepka had it as time expired. Stainbrook, who was back off the deck by this point, tried to get the ball out of Obepka’s hands in the hopes of a steal or a jump-ball call, but he was too late, as time expired.

Harrison said of the last play, “I just wanted to get a stop and we did it.  It is a good win; we fought it out and were able to get the win.”

St. John’s was led by Harrison, who had 20 points, including 15 in the second half. Harrison shot 7-for-14 from the field and 3-5 on threes, with a rebound and an assist.

Pointer had another amazing game, with 19 points on 8-for-15 from the field, with 9 rebounds, 6 blocks, 4 steals, and 3 assists.

Lavin said of Pointer, “He’s as unique a talent as I’ve coached in my career.  He’s unorthodox and extraterrestrial. It’s rare to coach someone that can guard five positions on defense and play five positions on offense.  And there’s his wonderful personality as his temperament and demeanor are first rate. He’s what we call a happy warrior.  There’s nothing Dom could do at this point that would surprise us, because he’s been exceptional in so many games over his career and in particular this year. He’s a force of nature.  He imposes his will on the game and disrupts what opponents are trying to execute offensively.  You can’t really prepare for him.  How do you prepare for a tornado ripping up and down the basketball court?  You can talk about it, show film, but it’s not as though an opponent can simulate what Dom does unless you have Dom on your team and we’re fortunate we have Dom.  We’re thankful.  He’s a special kid,” said Lavin.

On Pointer’s chances of garnering all-conference accolades, Lavin said, “I can’t imagine there’s anybody in our league, let alone the country, that influences the game at both ends of the floor in such dramatic fashion.  I know in my career I’ve never had a player like him – he’s an original or singular in uniqueness. His ability to influence the game at both ends of the floor in such dramatic fashion is really unusual.  So whether it’s this league or the country, it’s clear his skill set and motor are exceptional.”

Rysheed Jordan had a big night with 10 points (5-9 FG, 0-1 on 3s), 6 assists, and 3 rebounds. Jordan, per custom, did not speak after the game.

Harrison said of Jordan, “He’s just getting better every game.  He continues to show leadership and maturity throughout every game.  At [Xavier’s] place he hit the big three. Tonight, he was able to hit a big shot and get a big steal.  He’s finding different ways to win games for us.  He stepped up big tonight.”

Pointer said of Jordan, “He’s in a good place right now.  He’s not turning the ball over, and he’s just playing his game.  He’s taking open shots and he’s playing like a mature player.”

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