That changed Wednesday night in a 69-54 victory over USF before a sell-out crowd of over 5,000 at Carnesecca Arena.
“I wasn't pleased with stretches where we lost our focus and concentration,” Lavin said of a second-half timeout he called when he could be heard over the home crowd, letting his team know he didn't like what he was seeing. “We lost the concentration we need to put good teams away. But we recaptured the focus and salted the win away. With our schedule stepping up we can't have those lapses or teams will go on runs and that will make it less likely that we will do something special in March.”
Freshman forward JaKarr Sampson scored 20 points with seven rebounds and sophomore guard D'Angelo Harrison added 18 with five assists and four rebounds as St. John's handed the Bulls their ninth-straight loss and 13th in their last 14 games.
Second-year swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer added 12 points, 10 rebounds and six assists – marking his third-career double-double and third in the last 10 games – for the Red Storm (16-10, 8-6), which has now won seven of its last 10. The win moves St. John's into a tie for seventh in the conference.
Marc-Antoine Bourgault was the Red Storm’s fourth double-figure scorer, finishing with 10 points in a performance that included two 3-pointers and his first-career dunk, which delighted the crowd and the Frenchman’s teammates.
It was the first game back for Lavin, who missed two games following the death of his father, Cap, a Hall of Famer from a different USF, the University of San Francisco.
The Red Storm players knew they heard a different Lavin than they had during the season.
“We never thought the lead was in jeopardy, but we knew we had to close out the game,” Harrison said of Lavin's more expressive message to the team during a 30-second timeout. “He was frustrated we stepped off the gas and I'd be frustrated too. He got on us and kept us in the game.”
St. John's finished 6-of-18 from 3-point range, a good performance from the team that entered the day last in the 15-team conference by shooting 30.1 percent from beyond the arc. The Red Storm, which also was last in the league at free throw shooting at 64.4 percent, made 15-of-20 for the game (75.0 percent).
The sellout crowd of 5,602 was enticed by a bobblehead doll of Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesecca and a halftime recognition of former St. John's players and coaches. The brief ceremony concluded with remarks from Carnesecca that included a reference to "an octopus wearing roller skates" as a description of a young team.
St. John’s hosts No. 20 Pitt at The Garden on Sunday, Feb. 24, at noon. The game will be broadcast on MSG Network.