St. John's vs. Davidson -- a preview

After eight days off, St. John's will try to snap its two-game losing streak on Monday night at Madison Square Garden, when it takes on Davidson.

The game is part of the annual Holiday Festival at the Garden -- it will be preceded by St. Francis (NY) taking on Northwestern at 7 p.m. The St. John's game should tip off at about 9:30. Both games will air locally on MSG.

The two winners will play in Tuesday night's championship game, while the two losers will play first in the consolation game.

St. John's (5-3) is coming off back-to-back heartbreaking losses -- 67-66 to St. Bonaventure at Carnesecca Arena, and 84-81 at Fordham. The Red Storm blew a 10-point second-half lead against the Bonnies, and a 21-point second-half lead against the Rams.

These two games at the Garden this week are critical for St. John's -- they are the Red Storm's final two before beginning Big East play at West Virginia on Dec. 29. St. John's desperately needs to build up a little momentum, and a couple wins could also loom large if the Red Storm end up on the bubble come NCAA Tournament time.

"I spoke to the kids about the season being a marathon," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said after the loss to Fordham. "And because of our last two losses, we now have to get two wins that maybe when you look at that schedule before the season starts, you didn't think you'd get."

Shooting guard Dwight Hardy is coming off two outstanding personal performances -- Hardy had 24 points against St. Bonaventure, and 30 points against Fordham. Lavin would like to see more of that -- and more in general from senior swingman D.J. Kennedy, St. John's leading scorer last season, who is off to a sluggish start this year.

Davidson -- coached by New York City native Bob McKillop -- is 5-4 on the season, and 1-1 so far in the Southern Conference. The Wildcats also are coming off eight days off -- in their last game, they defeated Charlotte at home 82-68. (In Charlotte's last game, it defeated No. 7 Tennessee.)

Jake Cohen -- a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward -- leads Davidson in scoring (14.7 ppg) and rebounding (6.7 rpg). Cohen is shooting 52.9 percent from the field, and 82.9 percent from the foul line.

Lavin will likely give more minutes to 6-foot-10 Dele Coker, 6-foot-8 Justin Burrell and 6-foot-8 Sean Evans, in an attempt to counteract Cohen's size.

Fellow sophomore J.P. Kuhlman -- a 6-foot-4 guard -- averages 13.6 points per game, and a team-high 3.3 assists per contest.

In the first game of the doubleheader, St. Francis faces a tall task -- Northwestern (7-0) is one of nine remaining undefeated teams in Division I. John Shurna -- a 6-foot-8 junior forward -- is having a fantastic year so far for Northwestern, averaging 23.7 points per game, and shooting 64.3 percent from the field. Shurna also has made 23 of his 37 3-point attempts (62.2 percent).

St. Francis is 6-3, and 2-0 in Northeast Conference play under first-year head coach Glenn Braica -- a former St. John's assistant. Akeem Bennett -- a 6-foot-3 senior -- averages 16.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Terriers, while fellow senior Ricky Cadell (a 6-foot-2 guard) averages 16.2 points per contest.