Unfortunately for the Red Storm they did not play like a ranked team for the first 20 minutes. The Gaels were led by 6-10 senior forward Brad Waldow, who finished with a game high 26 points, primarily from point blank range. St. Mary’s repeatedly passed the ball inside against SJU’s defense, took an early lead and established control of the boards on both ends. St John’s could do nothing offensively and shot a dismal 24% from the field in the first half. With 1:36 left the Johnnies had the same number of field goals as free throws.
St Mary’s length and efficient offensive sets, centered around crisp ball movement and good cuts often ended with the ball in Waldow’s hands around the basket. His 19 points propelled the Gaels, a team as usual, laden with West Coast and foreign talent, to a 33-18 advantage at intermission. Only the relatively hot hand of senior D’Angelo Harrison kept St John’s within striking distance as he put in 11 points in the opening 20 minutes as the Red Storm offense did nothing to speak of.
However, things took a dramatic turn as SJU opened the 2nd stanza on a 15-4 run to cut the lead to four points on two separate occasions/ They took the lead 42-41 with 8:04 remaining on a pair of free throws by senior forward Sir’Dominic Pointer, who finished with a double -double with 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Active hands defensively sparked the Red Storm as they ratcheted up their defensive pressure and ultimately held SMC to only 14 second half points. The Gaels got away from their inside game in the second half as Pointer contained Waldow by fronting him in the post. The Gaels lack of three point shooters prevented them from any hope once the Red Storm rally was underway. With junior Chris Obekpa in foul trouble, Pointer’s defense and athleticism, coupled with Harrison’s team high 21 points, turned the tide for the Johnnies in the second half. SMC wilted, shooting only 26% from the field in the half. Though they dominated the glass on both ends all game the Gaels could not withstand St John’s relentless toughness and hustle during the second half rally. SJU held them scoreless over the last 2:42 securing the victory from the line with three free throws in the last 1:48.
St Mary’s (6-3) will have their hands full this year in the usually tough WCC, with both BYU and Gonzaga to contend with. But behind upperclassmen Waldow and guards Kerry Carter and Aaron Bright they ought to be able to hold their own and perhaps earn a bid to the Big Dance.
With four seniors in their starting lineup SJU has the makeup of a tournament team but their schedule will get tougher come conference play in the Big East. The solid efforts of Pointer and Harrison on both ends of the court reflect their leadership qualities that Coach Steve Lavin benefits from. These kids refused to quit and it paid off nicely with a big comeback win against an experienced, battle tested SMC team that always acquits itself come March. St John’s, now 9-1, will look to get off to their best start in over two decades on Monday when they welcome in Long Beach State.
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