SJU beats Dartmouth, for what it's worth

NEW YORK -- St. John's improved to 2-0 in the Ivy League on Saturday, defeating Dartmouth 69-55.

Unfortunately, St. John's is a member of the Big East, where it remains 0-5.

The Red Storm did snap their five-game losing streak, and notched their first win of 2014. But it came against a team with an RPI of 287 -- and it was far from easy. The Big Green trailed by just four at intermission, and were still within nine points midway through the second half.

"It feels great to get the monkey off our back, just to get one in the W column," said St. John's guard Phil Greene. "Now we gotta continue to build on it."

There is something to be said for getting off the schneid -- this team hadn't won a game in three weeks, and a loss to Dartmouth could have been devastating. There were bright spots, Greene being chief among them. The junior scored a game-high 16 points, shooting 4-for-5 from beyond the arc. His four 3-pointers were a career-high.

"Before the game, I worked out. I had it in my mind I was gonna be aggressive," Greene said. "Any time I had an open shot, I was gonna take it. If I had someone one-on-one, I was gonna drive. I was just in an aggressive mindset. The team is better when we're all playing aggressive -- we can't be tentative."

He’s dead-right about that. The Red Storm looked tight early in their loss to Providence two nights ago, falling behind big early and ultimately losing in double overtime.

Coach Steve Lavin shortened his bench a little bit Saturday, sitting Max Hooper until garbage time at the very end. Lavin went with an eight-man rotation early, bringing Sir'Dominic Pointer, Jamal Branch and Chris Obekpa off the bench to spell starters Greene, D'Angelo Harrison, Rysheed Jordan, Jakarr Sampson and Orlando Sanchez. But then Lavin called upon God'sgift Achiuwa to replace an ineffective Obekpa.

Obekpa, who led the nation in blocked shots per game as a freshman last season, has struggled in recent games. On Saturday, he looked lethargic and fouled out in just 12 minutes, with two blocks, three rebounds, zero points and three turnovers.

Lavin deflected a question about Obekpa after the game. When asked if he is worried about Obekpa, because he seems to be searching for himself right now, Lavin initially acted confused and then cracked jokes in response.

"Searching for himself -- sounds kind of existential to me," Lavin said. "That's a little too deep for me. I'll have to watch the film on that one. I don't know what he's searching for."

As for the overall performance of his team, Lavin sounded pleased. Greene said, "We had a breakthrough today," but Lavin thinks the breakthrough came after the team's blowout loss at Georgetown on Jan. 4.

"From my point of view, we had a great week of practice after Georgetown, and we really played well in three games," Lavin said. "When I say we played well, we made progress, dramatic progress, from the Georgetown game, and very easily could have been 3-0, or 2-1, or 1-2. But we ended up with the worst possible scenario, which is 0-3."

"I thought we played really well against Villanova -- we didn't close them out, I was disappointed with the free throw situation there," he added. "I thought DePaul, after we were down seven, we raced back, played very well to get the four-point lead and just lost a heartbreaker. And then the other night was a double-overtime high-level game against a team, Providence, that waxed Georgetown."

However you feel about the Red Storm's performances in the past three games prior to this one, there's no denying that they are in last place in the Big East -- the only winless team in the conference, after Butler's victory over Marquette on Saturday.

Their past two wins are against Columbia and Dartmouth. St. John's has proven it could compete in the Ivy League. The Big East? That remains to be seen.