Jan. 15, 2013
NEW YORK (AP) - With his well-documented, historically young team, St. John's head coach Steve Lavin has no idea how work is going to be every day.
Just three days after playing one of its worst games of the season, the Red Storm came up with a stalwart effort in a 67-63 victory over No. 20/20 Notre Dame on Tuesday night.
It was hard to believe St. John's was the same team that lost 67-51 to then-No. 19/22 Georgetown Saturday on the same Madison Square Garden court.
"I told you expect the unexpected," Lavin said of his roster that has only one active scholarship upperclassman. "Buckle up and enjoy the roller coaster ride with this young team, that at times is maddening. But they balance it out with some brilliant play."
Playing man-to-man rather than a zone defense as they have all season, St. John's opened the game strong, unlike the previous contest, and held a 32-31 lead at halftime.
"We came out very intense today," forward Amir Garrett said. "Against Georgetown that definitely wasn't the way we played. Tonight we came out hard, with intensity, very fierce."
The Red Storm (10-7, 2-3 BIG EAST), which had lost two straight and four of five, had a 12-point lead midway through the second half and despite giving it all up, they managed to score the game's final six points for the win, the third-straight over the Fighting Irish and fifth-straight over Notre Dame at The Garden.
The victory marked the ninth over a ranked team during the Lavin Era, and the eighth with the third-year head coach on the sidelines. St. John's is now 2-2 on the year against Top 25 opposition, having won at then No. 14/15 Cincinnati, 53-52, on Jan. 5.
"We knew they were going to make a run,'' Garrett said of the Irish. ``In the last minutes we had to find a way to sustain the lead."
St. John's did just that, using the Red Storm's mode of choice this season: the blocked shot.
St. John's entered the game leading the nation in blocked shots at 8.56 per game. The Red Storm finished with nine for the contest, the two biggest on two of Notre Dame's last three possessions in the final 20 seconds.
D'Angelo Harrison, a 6-3 guard, blocked a shot by 6-10 Tom Knight and JaKarr Sampson made one of two free throws with 19.7 seconds left. Chris Obekpa, who leads the nation with 5.13 blocks per game, got his second of the game when he blocked Pat Connaughton's drive off his head and out of bounds with 7.6 seconds left.
"Chris got the block after me when he blocked it off his head," said Harrison, who totaled a career-high three rejections. "He said `I got your back.' I felt like I was a shot blocker today."
Freshman forward Sampson scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half for St. John's while Phil Greene IV had 13, four rebounds and two assists, and Garrett totaled 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting to go along with three boards and three blocks.
St. John's, which came into the game last in the conference in free throw shooting at 61.4 percent, made 12-of-15 from the line with Sampson going 7-of-9.
Eric Atkins had a season-high 21 points for Notre Dame (14-3, 2-2), which used an 18-4 run to wipe out the double-digit deficit and take a 61-59 lead with 4:27 to play.
Notre Dame's last lead came at 63-61 on a drive by Jerian Grant with 2:50 left.
After a delay in play to stop a bloodied nose, Harrison, the second-leading scorer in the BIG EAST with a 20.6 average, hit a 3-pointer with 2:32 left to give the Red Storm the lead for good at 64-63. Harrison took just three shots in the first half. His only field goals of the game were 3-pointers and he finished with eight points, five rebounds and three assists to go along with the three swats.
Grant had 14 points for Notre Dame and Jack Cooley, who was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble, added 10.
"They did a good job of pressuring the ball," Notre Dame's Garrick Sherman said. "We really couldn't get any offensive rhythm in the last two minutes just because of their ball pressure."
Irish head coach Mike Brey agreed.
"They really guarded the heck out of us with their speed and over the course of time it wore on us," he said.
The teams play again March 5 at Notre Dame. Next, however, the Red Storm opens a home-and-home season series at DePaul on Saturday, Jan. 19, at noon on SNY.