Johnnies get off to great start in win

NEW YORK -- A new era in St. John's basketball got off to a flying start on Monday night.

The Red Storm, with six of their seven regulars making their Division I debuts, won their season opener versus William & Mary, 74-59 at Carnesecca Arena.

After trailing 33-26 at the half, St. John's played a near-perfect second 20 minutes, overwhelming the Tribe, picked to finish sixth in the Colonial Athletic Association.

"We're very happy with the way we played in the second half," said St. John's special assistant Gene Keady. "We came out with a lot more energy as you can tell, and played like we practice."

Keady spoke with the media after the game in place of head coach Steve Lavin, who was absent as he continues to recover from his Oct. 6 prostate cancer surgery.

William & Mary looked more than capable of pulling an upset in the early going, swinging the ball furiously around the perimeter and creating open jump shots -- its strong suit. The Tribe connected on seven 3-pointers in the first half, while the Red Storm shot just 10-for-31 from the field.

Both freshman D'Angelo Harrison and sophomore junior college transfer Nurideen Lindsey said that nerves played a role in the team's shaky first-half performance.

"I think in the first half, guys came out, we were a little tight," said Lindsey. "We were definitely excited about the game, but we didn't come out ready to play. Second half, we loosened up, understood that defensively we had to turn it up a lot."

Those two guards led the surge in the second half, swarming all over William & Mary's shooters and attacking the basket repeatedly on the other end. Lindsey scored 17 of his team-high 19 points after intermission, making all seven of his second-half field goal attempts. Harrison tallied nine of his 14 points after the break as well.

Two other St. John's players also made it into double figures: freshman forward Moe Harkless (17 points, 9 rebounds) and junior juco transfer God'sgift Achiuwa (17 points, 8 rebounds).

The Red Storm shot a sparkling 19-for-28 from the field in the second half (67.9 percent). Keady credited assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who is running the team in Lavin's place.

"I really have to hand it to him at halftime," Keady said. "He didn't come in here and get on anybody. He just kept calm and cool and said, 'Hey, we'll come back out in the second half and play like we wanted to.' He did a tremendous job."

Perhaps the most impressive stat of the night was the turnover comparison. St. John's forced 21 William & Mary giveaways. Meanwhile, the Red Storm, one of the youngest teams in Division I this season, played with the poise of wily veterans. They had just four turnovers on the night, and zero in the second half.

"The way we play was in the second half," said Harrison. "The way St. John's plays was in the second half."

About the only thing that went wrong for St. John's after halftime was at the foul line. The Red Storm made just 12 of 25 from the charity stripe.

Oh, and Keady's cell phone interrupted the postgame news conference twice. If you're interested, Keady's ring tone is "Sweet Georgia Brown."

This St. John's team is not the Harlem Globetrotters. But the Red Storm look capable of providing plenty of highlights over the next four months.

We won't have to wait long to see more. Their next game is against Lehigh on Wednesday night.

"This is a good start," said Harkless. "Something we can build on."