NEW YORK (AP) Steve Lavin watched the first half and wondered what went wrong. For 20 minutes, the St. John’s coach saw his veteran-laden team play as if it was full of strangers.
Following a speech in which he implored the No. 20 Red Storm to do better, they did.
D’Angelo Harrison scored 21 points and St. John’s overcame a 15-point halftime deficit, rallying past Saint Mary’s 53-47 on Friday night.
”Can’t think of more of a black-and-white example of different halves,” Lavin said. ”The concern would be if this would be a road game in the Big East, we would find ourselves down 30 at Villanova.”
The Red Storm (9-1) trailed 33-18 at the break. St. John’s opened the second half with a 27-8 run to take the lead.
St. John’s won its fifth in a row and is off to its best start since going 9-1 in the 2009-10 edition season. That team finished at 17-16 and a first-round loss in the NIT, leading to the firing of coach Norm Roberts and the hiring of Lavin.
Sir’Dominic Pointer added 11 points and 11 rebounds for St. John’s. Pointer’s defense on Brad Waldow in the second half limited the Saint Mary’s center to seven points.
Waldow had 26 points and 11 rebounds for the Gaels (6-3).
”We need to work on being a tighter and tougher team,” Waldow said. ”I feel like we went away (from what we did) in the first half.”
The Red Storm has won twice in three all-time meetings against the West Coast Conference team. The Gaels’ lone victory came on Nov. 16, 2010, in Lavin’s first game as the coach at St. John’s.
”They’re the most successful (West Coast) program in the last decade,” Lavin said of Saint Mary’s.
Pointer’s two foul shots with 8:04 remaining gave St. John’s a 43-41 lead, its first edge since the early minutes.
The Red Storm’s defense sparked the run, forcing nine turnovers in the second half and limiting Saint Mary’s to 26.1 percent shooting. St. John’s shot 13 of 28 in the final 20 minutes.
”Coach talked to us at halftime and said that wasn’t St. John’s basketball. I think they scored 14 points in the second half. That’s St. John’s basketball,” Harrison said. ”Coach emphasized cutting down (Waldow).”
Dane Pineau cut the Gaels’ gap to 48-47 with a three-point play. Pointer came back with a jumper, and he combined with Phil Greene IV to make three free throws in the final 11 seconds.
Waldow and the Gaels took their big lead by holding St. John’s to only six baskets in the first half. It took the Red Storm nearly 13 minutes to break into double-figure scoring.
”We gave ourselves a chance,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. ”If you can keep (St. John’s) in (the) half-court, you can guard them.”
Saint Mary’s: The Gaels entered the game with a 99-28 record against non-West Coast Conference opponents.
St. John’s: Senior center Joey De La Rosa made his season debut. He had to sit out the first nine games of the season after transferring from Florida International.
Saint Mary’s hosts Northeastern on Monday.
St. John’s hosts Long Beach State on Monday.
”You look at the schedule, you put Ws and Ls. There were combinations of 9-1, 9-2, undefeated. … We had high expectations for ourselves. We also realize we have a lot of work to do.” – Lavin, on his preseason assessment.