By JOSH NEWMAN
Special to ZAGSBLOG
It would seem a little unlikely right now given those poor early losses, but we’re about to find out for better or worse over the last month of the regular season whether or not those bad early losses are going to matter.
Behind a team-high 18 points and six rebounds from freshman forward JaKarr Sampson and a late surge from sophomore point guard D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s held off the UConn, 71-65, at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday night for their sixth win in seven games. The victory — achieved without injured sophomore point guard Jamal Branch — moves St. John’s to 15-8 overall and 7-4 in the Big East, while continuing a stretch of games to close the season that will test its mettle.
Wednesday marked the only home game in a brutal four-game stretch that began with a 68-56 loss at Georgetown on Saturday and will close at Louisville next week.
“It was obviously a wild Big East basketball game this evening and I feel fortunate that we were able to come out on top with a victory,” Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin said. “At this stage of the year, you don’t grade victories in the Big East. You’re just grateful and you chock it up as a ‘W’ and you move forward.”
For Lavin and the Red Storm, moving forward means taking on two Big East elites on the road over the next two games. St. John’s is at Big East co-leader Syracuse on Sunday afternoon before heading to Louisville on Thursday evening.
Aside from those two games, the final four games will feature trips to Providence and Notre Dame sandwiched between home games against Pittsburgh and Marquette, which is the Big East’s other first-place team at the moment.
“We gotta protect home court, the home games are big,” said sophomore guard Phil Greene IV, who finished with 10 points, six assists and four steals. “We’ve got a tough task ahead. We’re gonna be ready and get back to the drawing board.”
“In league play, the formula for years has been hold serve at home and split on the road,” Lavin said. “If you’re able to do those two, you’re more than likely in the mix to do something special come March. If you can hold serve at home and split on the road, we already have three (Big East) road wins, if we could sneak one more road win in somewhere, that would really help our cause.”
The Johnnies have seven more games in the Big East, six of which are against teams currently residing in the top half of the standings; they have several chances to bolster their NCAA Tournament resume.
If the Red Storm are going to pick up at least three more wins to get to 10 and have this season end in the NCAA Tournament, stealing one at either Syracuse or Louisville for a fourth road win would be a good place to start.