Dec. 21, 2012
QUEENS, N.Y. (AP) - St. John's head coach Steve Lavin has seen it before from his young squad this season. A 13-point lead against Murray State on Nov. 16 in Charleston that turned into in a five-point loss. A nine-point lead against Baylor on Nov. 18 that evaporated into a 97-78 defeat.
On Friday in Queens, with the Red Storm (8-4) leading by 17 in the first half and 15 in the second, St. John's inability to finish cost the Red Storm a chance to complete the non-conference portion of its schedule on a seven-of-eight streak and a reason to head into the Christmas break on a high note.
Jeremy Atkinson scored a career-high 31 points, including 13 in UNC Asheville's game-turning 23-4 run, and grabbed nine rebounds as the Bulldogs rallied past St. John's 72-65 at Carnesecca Arena.
"If you look at our games, we were up nine on Baylor, up 13 on Murray State and up 17 tonight, so if we sustain, we'd probably be 11-1 and ranked 15th in the country tonight. We'd be the same group of players, with the same flaws and deficiencies as the team that's 8-4," said Lavin. "That's why as a coach you don't get too carried away with the prosperity when you're doing well or the adversity when you're not doing well, but instead just keep focused on improvement, especially when you have this young team. They're the same group of kids that built leads in those games, that gave up those leads, and the same group that fought back in some big games that we won, like Detroit and Holy Cross. They're learning about how to sustain, about maturity, about how to finish and every day it's another lesson. Today was a valuable lesson."
The Bulldogs (5-7) trailed by 17 points in the first half and were down 54-42 with 12:11 remaining.
Atkinson keyed the big burst, hitting all three of his 3-point field goals. He was 6-of-10 overall in the second half when Asheville shot 48.4 percent and made four of its nine 3-point attempts. Keith Hornsby's breakaway dunk gave the Bulldogs a 65-58 lead with 4:10 to play. The Red Storm answered with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 65 with 2:03 left.
Hornsby hit a 3 to beat the shot clock and break the tie with 1:30 left and that started the Bulldogs' game-closing 7-0 run. The son of Grammy Award-winning singer Bruce Hornsby had 14 points and Will Weeks added 10 points and nine rebounds. The Bulldogs beat a BIG EAST team for the first time in 16 games.
Asheville, the two-time defending Big South champions, outrebounded the Red Storm 40-30, including a +14 advantage in the second half and a 13-7 edge on the offensive end.
D'Angelo Harrison had 24 points for the Red Storm, who had won six of seven. The performance was Harrison's ninth at 20 or more points in the first 12 games of the season. BIG EAST Rookie of the Week JaKarr Sampson finished with 17, while Marco Bourgault scored a career-high eight and Chris Obekpa blocked six shots and grabbed eight boards. Phil Greene IV scored four points with a team-high four assists.
Asheville scored the last five points of the first half - all off St. John's turnovers - to get within 40-30. The Red Storm led 38-21 with 3:12 left on a fadeaway by Sampson.
This capped Asheville's three-game, eight-day trip that started with a loss at No. 7 Ohio State followed by a win over Northeastern.
Sophomore Jamal Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M, made his debut with the Red Storm. The point guard had two points, two assists and four rebounds in 14 minutes.
"He came in and played well, threw some nice passes and played good defense," Greene, the starting point guard, said, "Once he gets adjusted he'll be fine."
BIG EAST play begins with St. John's most-frequently faced rival throughout history. The Red Storm heads to Villanova to face the Wildcats in a historic 105th meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 2. The 8 p.m. contest at the Pavilion will air nationally on ESPNU.