St. John’s Strong Second Half beats Columbia, 79-66
Just two games into the 2010 regular season, St. John’s faced a challenge. Since the team had jetted across the country the night before, they’d been concerned about the players’ tired legs and, sure enough, they found themselves trailing the pesky Columbia Lions at home in the small gym on their Queens campus.
St. John’s, a program with a storied basketball history looking to rebound this season from a decade of poor performance, took Columbia’s best punch and responded strongly by outscoring Columbia 44-27 in the second half en route to a 79-66 win.
This game was full of storylines. The night before, St. John’s had flown to California to play St. Mary’s College where Kyle Smith, the new head coach of Columbia, had been an assistant coach last season. Now, St. John’s faced the new-look Lions’ high-octane offense led by Noruwa Agho, a talented guard who may be an all-Ivy League candidate before the season is done.
St. John’s started out strong, hitting on long distance shots in the opening minutes of the first half to surge to a 24-12 lead. It looked too easy. The Lions clawed back on the strength of their own hot shooters, Agho and Frosh sharpshooter Dyami Starks, one of the top hoopsters from Minnesota. Starks has a great shot and propelled the Lions to a 14-2 run to silence the partisan crowd at Carnesecca Arena.
The spotlight was on the new St. John’s coach, Steve Lavin, fresh off the ESPN analyst’s seat and onto St. John’s bench as the coach brought in to lead them back to prominence. Lavin was a hot coach at UCLA, and a great recruiter. Evidently his magic touch reached Dwayne Polee, the highly recruited prospect out of California. Polee picked St. John’s, Lavin, and the Big Apple.
Polee scored 10 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, and D.J. Williams scored 18 points to lead the Johnnies. Justin Brownlee, a talented forward with a nice shooting touch, added 15 points, and sophomore guard Malik Stith scored 10 points.
At halftime, St. John’s trailed Columbia 39-35 and needed to make some adjustments. “We needed to tag their shooters,” said Lavin. The Red Storm defense responded to their coach’s mandate, and Columbia’s Starks, who had hit 5 of 8 treys in the first half, was shut down in the second. Polee grabbed some rebounds, and St. John’s caught fire, winning their first game under Coach Lavin. After the game, the team signed a ball and gave it to their new coach.
The defense stepped up in the second half. D.J. Kennedy said the team made an effort to tighten it up on defense. “We got to make sure they don’t get open shots,” said Kennedy. St. John’s took a 58-51 lead on a 3-point shot by Stith, and the Red Storm never turned back. Senior guard Dwight Hardy hit a jumper to put SJU ahead 68-55 with 7:21 remaining in the second half.
Give Columbia credit, they played hard and fought tough. The Lions have several talented players in Agho, Starks, and Asenso Ampim. But the Red Storm has 10 returning seniors who seem hungry to leave their collegiate careers on a high note. And, St. John’s has a new coaching staff headed by Lavin. It will be an interesting season for the Johnnies. #