Steve Lavin gets win in long-awaited return to bench as St. John's overcomes 10-point deficit to defeat Detroit 77-74 in season opener. (Photo courtesy of Newark Star-Ledger)
Going into today's game, the concerns surrounding St. John's and their roster seemed to distract the Red Storm from their season opener against reigning Horizon League champion Detroit. The latest of which, one that emanated late last night when it was announced that star guard D'Angelo Harrison would not start the game for disciplinary reasons, also proved to be just another hurdle that the Red Storm (1-0) cleared in typical fashion, overcoming a 10-point deficit with their stifling matchup zone to defeat Detroit (1-1) by the final of 77-74 inside Carnesecca Arena.
"We know how to fight," said Harrison, who scored fifteen of his 22 points in the second half. "My job is to play basketball here. It doesn't matter who starts or doesn't start." Phil Greene also chipped in with 20 points of his own, while Amir Garrett added a quiet double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Obekpa, a 6-8 freshman who was one of the more highly touted prospects in the St. John's recruiting class, stole the show off the bench; setting a school record with eight blocked shots, while also contributing seven points and eleven rebounds. Said Obekpa of his dominating performance: "It was fun, so I kept on doing it."
In his first game back as coach of the Red Storm, Steve Lavin was proud of the effort. "I thought the players showed a collective, resilient spirit," Lavin said. "We knew we were going to get a great test today, and we ultimately found a way to get a win. This was similar to what teams in the postseason face in the first round."
Lavin went to his matchup zone defense with just over nine minutes left when the Red Storm trailed the Titans 60-53. From there, Detroit missed six consecutive shots while the Johnnies used seven unanswered points from Harrison and Garrett to tie the game before Ray McCallum (21 points) gave Detroit what would be their final lead, putting the Titans ahead 62-60. Following a basket by Harrison, Sir'Dominic Pointer's layup with 4:50 remaining moved St. John's into the lead for good. Detroit had a chance to send the game into overtime following a Red Storm turnover, but the Titans missed a desperation three-point attempt from the left wing to secure the final margin of victory for the Johnnies.
St. John's heads to the Charleston Classic from here, taking on College of Charleston in the opening round Thursday night before facing either Murray State or Auburn.