In just one month – from Jan. 18 to Feb. 18 – St. John’s went from one of the most disappointing teams in the country to one of the hottest teams in the country. The Red Storm, which opened 0-5 in Big East play, have suddenly won nine of 10 to climb to fourth in the conference standings.
In some ways, Steve Lavin saw each development – the slow start and the late flurry – coming.
“Well, we knew coming into the year it was going to be extremely challenging in November, December and January,” the St. John’s coach said on The Morning Show. “We had D’Angelo Harrison, who was suspended last year, working his way back in terms of being accepted by this group. You have to earn (back) that respect and that leadership mantle, and so it took some time for D’Angelo to take the reins of this team back after his suspension.”
It’s safe to say he has. Harrison, a 6-4 guard, leads St. John’s with 17.9 points per game.
Harrison’s suspension, however, wasn’t the only obstacle the Red Storm had to overcome. Orlando Sanchez (shoulder) and Phil Greene (hip) both missed more than four months of offseason conditioning while recovering from surgery. They are averaging 7.0 and 7.7 points, respectively.
“It just takes time to get back,” Lavin said.
Freshman guard Rysheed Jordan also went through some growing pains. Throw in a tough schedule – Wisconsin, Syracuse, etc. – and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a slow start.
“We took on some tough customers,” Lavin said. “And even early in our league we started with the roughest schedule of any Big East member – at Georgetown, at Xavier, Villanova coming into our place in our third game – (it was tough).”
St. John’s lost all three of those games – and then two more at DePaul and against Providence, the latter coming by one point in double overtime.
Still, the Red Storm (18-9, 8-6), once 9-8, have turned things around, taking nine of 10. Their only loss during that stretch? A 63-60 setback at No. 11 Creighton (22-4, 12-2), which is atop the Big East standings.
“To our kids’ credit, they’ve stayed the course, (and) they’ve continued to work hard,” Lavin said. “I think the struggles in some way bonded this team, made us tougher. There’s a resiliency, a gumption, a fight-back, a toughness about this group that I really enjoy.”
Up next? A road rematch with No. 9 Villanova, which beat St. John’s, 74-67 on Jan. 11. Tip-off is slated for Saturday at 1:30 p.m. EST.
“It’s really about consistency,” Lavin said of his coaching mentality. “We don’t get too high after a win, you don’t get too down after a loss. Stay on the path of progress. Every game is a championship game. At the end of it, you want to continue to improve, elevate your level of play.
“(But) at this stage of the season, the hay is in the barn. You’re not going to dramatically depart from your system or style of play. You do make adjustments from game to game based on personnel – an area we think we might be able to exploit – (and) even from half to half (or) timeout to timeout.
“But again, (we’re) modifying or refining little wrinkles, some counters maybe, in terms of our offensive schemes or giving someone a little bit of a new look defensively in terms of a rotation. We’re not going to dramatically depart from St. John’s basketball, which is a baseline-to-baseline attacking style of play.”