NEW YORK — Frank Martin knows all about D’Angelo Harrison.
Martin made a run at the talented two guard when he was the coach at Kansas State
“I recruited D’Angelo Harrison real hard at K-State,” Martin said after the 6-foot-3 Harrison went for a game-high 26 points as St. John’s destroyed the Gamecocks, 89-65, in the Big East/SEC Challenge at Carnesecca Arena. “I thought he was a real good player. When St. John’s got him I knew he’d be a handful.
“He’s got the ability on certain nights to go for a lot of, lot of baskets. He’s a high-level player.”
Harrison entered the season as a second-team All-Big East selection, but quickly fell into head coach Steve Lavin’s doghouse with his immature antics during the preseason. He came off the bench in one exhibition game and did not play entirely in another.
“Before he would undermine his own objectives and our team along with them when he would get sidetracked or distracted,” Lavin said.
But Harrison appears to have pulled his act together and appears less distracted by the officials, hard fouls or things not going his way.
“There’s a real breakthrough in terms of maturity on D’Angelo’s part and we’re pleased with that,” Lavin said.
That is all good news for St. John’s, which improved to 5-2 and has a real shot to exceed expectations and finish above the 10th-place finish the Big East coaches expect.
He has now scored 20+ points in six of the Johnnies’ seven games and has the ability to score in all three phases of the game.
“He’s as prolific a scorer as there in the Big East,” Lavin said. “He has range like Reggie Miller but he’s improved his short game like Scottie Reynolds. There’s the craftiness, too, of getting guys in the air and getting himself to the foul line.
“The arsenal in his offensive attack is impressive because he has the deep game, the mid-range game, stop-and-pop game, and then the rim game. And then if you foul him, he’s money from the free throw line.
“He’s as highly skilled as anyone in the conference.”
St. John’s isn’t going to dominate anyone on the boards. They were out-rebounded, 43-31, in this one, but they can get up and down the floor quick enough to compensate for that, and they play tough, physical defense (holding USC to 37 percent shooting while shooting 57 percent themselves).
Harrison is surrounded by a complement of long, athletic wing players like Amir Garrett, who had a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds, and JaKarr Sampson (11 points); a capable point guard in Phil Greene (13 points, 4 assists); an improving guard in Felix Balamou, who had two blocks on one possession that landed him on SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays; and a developing shot-blocker in Chris Obekpa (eight points, three blocks).
“They can score,” Martin said. “They’ve got length, they’ve got athleticism and they’ve got numerous guys that are very good with the basketball.
“If you allow them to get out and attack you the way they attacked us, they can make it a difficult night for you. They’ve got that ability. They’re high-skill guys that can make you pay.”
As for Martin recruiting Harrison, Lavin said they never had a chance.
Actually, he said Marquette was the favorite to land Harrison before Baylor, Oklahoma State and St. John’s got involved.
“He had a good visit so, yeah,” Lavin said, “we’re definitely glad we have him.”
SOUTH CAROLINA’S WILLIAMS RELEASED FROM HOSPITAL
South Carolina junior guard Brenton Williams was released from a local hospital after suffering a neck injury in the second half and was expected to travel with the team to Columbia, S.C.
With St. John’s up 51-41 and 13:34 remaining, Williams drove to the basket, was fouled by Phil Greene and then collided with 6-foot-9, 223-pound Chris Obekpa, who jumped to block Williams’ shot and landed on top of Williams on the floor. Obekpa remained on top of Williams on the ground for several seconds.
Williams was immobilized and wheeled off on a stretcher as the game was stopped for several minutes.
“I didn’t know what happened,” Obekpa said. “Someone fouled him and I jumped to block the ball, so when I land he was already on the ground so I fell on him. I fell on my hand, too, I felt a little pain. That’s why I didn’t get up on time.
“But when I got up and he didn’t stand up, I was like, ‘Man, it’s serious.'”
A South Carolina spokesman said Williams had movement in his extremities, although he remained very still as his teammates and medical officials stood over him.
“You feel for the guy, obviously,” Harrison said. “We felt bad for the guy but we had to finish the game out. I hope he gets well.
“I talked to Coach Martin after, tell him to get well soon from No. 11, so hopefully he gets well soon so he can play again.”
Said Martin: “I don’t know a heck of a whole lot. He never lost feeling in his extremities and he had movement in all his extremities. Anytime you’re dealing with a neck situation, I guess that’s God sent.”
There is still no word from the NCAA on St. John’s forward Orlando Sanchez, who has yet to play this season while the NCAA investigates his eligibility….Two-sport star Bruce Ellington debuted and scored seven points in 29 minutes for South Carolina. He is also a wide receiver on the football team, and was the basketball team’s leading scorer last year.