What it means: Steve Lavin is back, and his team is off to a promising start.
After missing almost all of last season while recovering from prostate cancer, Lavin officially made his return to the sideline Tuesday afternoon. And St. John’s won its regular-season opener against Detroit, 77-74, at Carnesecca Arena.
Three highly touted freshmen made their St. John’s debuts -- forwards Jakarr Sampson and Christian Jones, and center Chris Obekpa. All three made positive contributions -- particularly Obekpa. But the key to the victory was the play of three returning sophomores -- D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene and Amir Garrett (see below).
The skinny: This game was very tight for most of the first half. The score was tied at 25 when Detroit first took control, reeling off nine straight to make it 34-25. The Titans led 37-29 at intermission.
Trailing 60-53 in the second half, St. John’s went on a 14-2 run, retaking the lead for the first time since the opening half with just under five minutes remaining. Down the stretch, a more experienced Detroit team unraveled, while the younger St. John’s squad showed poise and resilience.
St. John’s did get a scare in the game’s final sequence. Detroit scored a bucket, St. John’s gave the ball away, and Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. suddenly had a 3-point shot that would have tied the game. But the shot was off.
Star watch: Harrison, St. John’s leading returning scorer, came off the bench -- he was benched entirely for the team’s second exhibition game last week because the coaching staff felt he was having trouble controlling his emotions. Harrison looked lethargic when he first entered the game, but ratcheted up the intensity after halftime, when he scored 15 of his team-high 22 points.
Greene finished with a career-high 20, displaying an improved perimeter shot. Garrett had a double-double, with 15 points and 11 rebounds. And Obekpa had 7 points, 11 rebounds and 8 blocked shots. (That's a St. John's single-game record, breaking the previous mark of seven, set by Robert Werdann in 1989.)
Number crunch: St. John’s struggled on the glass, giving up 19 offensive rebounds and 20 second-chance points. But the Red Storm had 12 blocked shots as a team. Obekpa is going to be a game-changer on defense.
What's next: St. John’s heads to South Carolina to participate in the Charleston Classic. The Red Storm will play the host team, College of Charleston, on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET. They’ll play two more games there as well, on Friday and Sunday.