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Fordham-St. John’s Preview

Despite being grateful for its first Top 25 appearance in four seasons, St. John’s is certainly not satisfied with the accomplishment.

The No. 24 Red Storm look to continue their strong start Sunday against Fordham at Madison Square Garden.

Off to the program’s best start since the 2009-10 team went 9-1, St. John’s (7-1) returned to the Top 25 this week for the first time since it was 18th heading into the 2011 NCAA tournament. The Red Storm backed up the new ranking by shooting a season-high 56.9 percent in Wednesday’s 74-52 win over Fairleigh Dickinson.

“If a program is ranked, it’s natural for a coach, player, fan, donor, and the student body to have some pep in the step or a sense of pride,” coach Steve Lavin said.

“I’m pleased that no sign of complacency is evident as we have yet to accomplish anything of significance. For four years we have moved in the right direction as a team and we are continuing to climb the mountain.”

One of three senior starters, D’Angelo Harrison had 26 points to pace the Red Storm, who have won three straight by an average margin of 15.7 points since losing to then-No. 10 Gonzaga 73-66 on Nov. 28.

“None of us on the team have been ranked before,” said Harrison, averaging a career-high 19.4 points. “It is exciting, but we had to win this game.”

Harrison has totaled 50 points in the past two games, shooting 14 of 26 from the field with six 3-pointers and hitting all 16 of his free throws.

He also chipped in two of the Red Storm’s 11 blocks Wednesday while center Chris Obekpa had six. The junior center is among the national leaders with 4.1 per game.

Obekpa keys a St. John’s defense which has held its last three opponents, one of which was Syracuse on the road, to an average of 55.3 points on 35.0 percent shooting.

Though Lavin is pleased with his team, he still expects it to play better.

“Naturally as a coach I’m never satisfied,” he said. “If we intend to make a postseason run, we have to keep elevating every facet of play.”

His players, however, aren’t thinking about March.

“The next game is one of our biggest,” Harrison said. “With the game at the Garden, Fordham is going to come ready to play so we just have to match their intensity and come ready to play, too.”

Harrison has averaged 14.0 points during the Red Storm’s three-game winning streak against Fordham (3-4). He had 13 and fellow senior Sir’Dominic Pointer fell just shy of a triple-double with 12 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds in last season’s 104-58 rout of the Rams. Pointer also had four steals and three blocks as the Red Storm shot 66.1 percent and held Fordham to 23.8.

These Rams have followed a four-game losing streak with consecutive victories over Siena and Monmouth.

Freshman Eric Paschall averages a team-leading 18.8 points but fouled out with seven on 3-of-10 shooting in a 73-54 loss at Penn State on Nov. 16 – his only contest against a major conference team. He missed a 66-50 loss at Maryland four days later due to an irregular heartbeat but has since averaged 32.3 minutes in four games.

The Rams lost their three matchups with ranked teams last season by an average of 25.0 points.

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