Johnnies earn 'A' against San Francisco

NEW YORK -- On the last day of final exams, St. John's passed an important test.

Three days after a gut-wrenching loss to No. 2 Syracuse, with the fall semester coming to a close and Christmas just one week away, the Red Storm were ripe for a letdown versus San Francisco.

Instead, they played with gusto from the opening tip, routing the Dons 81-57.

"The hangover from an emotional loss like the one we had against Syracuse can sometimes end up beating you twice," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "The best remedy to shake off that hangover is to get back on the winning track, and we were able to do that tonight."

San Francisco is no cupcake. The Dons, coached by former Kansas star and less-than-stellar New Jersey Net Rex Walters, were picked to finish fourth in the highly competitive West Coast Conference and were averaging 84.4 points per game (23rd in the country).

And San Francisco beat St. John's by 16, 81-65, on the West Coast last December.

But the Red Storm dispatched the Dons with relative ease this time around, leading by a dozen at halftime (43-31) and expanding the margin to 20 less than four minutes into the second half. The rest of the game was essentially garbage time.

This St. John's team has developed a habit of falling behind but bucked that trend Wednesday. Lavin let his players do most of the talking in their pregame meeting for a change, and there was a common theme.

"As a group, we just said, 'We can't let that happen no more,'" junior guard D'Angelo Harrison said. "We came out with a lot of intensity, and we took care of business."

Harrison scored a game-high 18 points, 12 of which came in the first half. He also tied the school record for most career 3-pointers with 151, equaling the mark previously set by Willie Shaw from 2000 to 2003.

"St. John's has a lot of history. A lot of great players," Harrison said. "It feels good to be recognized as just one of them."

Three others were in double figures, including freshman Rysheed Jordan, who had 10 points and four assists in 22 minutes -- his second consecutive game in double figures. Jordan looks more and more comfortable on the floor and is being more aggressive on the offensive end.

"He does things that change the complexion of the game at both ends of the court," Lavin said. "I think with each practice and each game, we're beginning to see Rysheed blossom."

St. John's pounded the boards, outrebounding San Francisco 35-24, including 15-6 on the offensive glass. The Red Storm forced 21 turnovers and committed only 11.

"I think our pressure on the ball was better than it's been at any point this year," Lavin said.

This can be a tricky time for a college basketball team, with classes ending and the holidays upon us. Distractions abound, and St. John's can hardly afford a slip-up. As of Monday's Bracketology, the Red Storm wouldn't make the NCAA tournament field of 68 nor even be among the first eight teams knocking on the door.

It's only mid-December, but a loss to San Francisco -- or to Youngstown State on Saturday, or to Columbia next week -- would leave a permanent stain on the Red Storm's résumé come March.

Wednesday night's 24-point win is an encouraging sign, to be sure.

St. John's gets an A this time around.