Young St. John’s heating up after early-season struggles

first_imgSt. John’s head coach Steve Lavin said he’s been a “kindergarten cop” at many points this season.Only one upperclassman plays more than five minutes per game for the Red Storm. The top nine players in points and minutes per game are freshmen or sophomores. Lavin’s team is one of the youngest in the country, and the level of play in the Big East has been a challenging adjustment.“I expected this coming into the year, for it to be the most challenging season of my career,” Lavin said in the Big East coaches’ teleconference on Thursday. “When you’re as young as we are and you don’t have a player on the roster that’s ever been in the postseason, it just makes it difficult.”St. John’s lost three of its first four Big East contests. The Red Storm (13-7, 5-3 Big East) has found its stride, though, winning four straight conference games, including a matchup with then-No. 20 Notre Dame on Jan. 15. SJU now sits tied for third in the Big East.While St. John’s has struggled at points this season, Lavin enjoys watching the youthful, high-energy players develop. As they overcome early-season jitters, the inexperienced Red Storm players are leading a surge in the Big East.AdvertisementThis is placeholder text“It’s rewarding to see the breakthroughs, to see the development both individually and certain players and then collectively as a group,” Lavin said.SJU’s development has come slowly this season. Lavin said the Red Storm came into the year with one of the youngest teams in school history. Only four upperclassmen are on the roster, and none of them receive regular playing time in Lavin’s rotation.That led to growing pains for the young and talented St. John’s roster – starting with nonconference play.Lavin watched his team squander a 17-point lead in a Dec. 21 game against North Carolina Asheville. The 72-65 loss included an 11-0 run by the Bulldogs.The Red Storm’s next loss, in the Big East opener at Villanova on Jan. 2, was another display of youthful inconsistency, Lavin said.Nursing a three-point lead with 1:31 remaining in regulation, St. John’s sophomore Amir Garrett fouled Villanova’s Darrun Hilliard behind the 3-point line. Hilliard made all three free throws, helping send the game into overtime. The Wildcats eventually won 98-86.Since the Red Storm suffered a 67-51 loss to Georgetown on Jan. 12, Big East play has largely turned around for St. John’s. Freshman and sophomore players that have kept the team afloat all season have been the driving force behind the Red Storm’s recent winning streak.Sophomore D’Angelo Harrison and freshman JaKarr Sampson lead the team in scoring, averaging 19.8 and 14.3 points per game, respectively. Harrison has made definitive plays in crucial moments, including a block in the waning moments against Notre Dame and clutch free throws at the end of Sunday’s win against Seton Hall.“That’s just our captain stepping up. We’re blessed to have him in those kinds of tight situations,” sophomore Sir’Dominic Pointer said Sunday in a St. John’s Athletics press release.Freshman Jamal Branch has also contributed key minutes for St. John’s. Garrett and Pointer, as well as fellow sophomore Phil Greene IV, play more than 20 minutes per game for the Red Storm.“I’m just getting used to the Big East,” Sampson said to St. John’s Athletics after a win over DePaul on Jan. 19. “That’s my goal as a freshman.”Growing pains are still part of the young team’s identity, regardless of its recent success.As Big East play becomes even more brutal, Lavin is anticipating the breakthrough turning into consistency. He’s happy with how far his team has come this season.“I think the future is bright,” Lavin said. “Whether it’s this year or next year, I’m pleased with the progress of our program.” Comments Facebook Twitter Google+ Published on January 29, 2013 at 11:34 pm Contact Jacob: [email protected]last_img

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