Just ask St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin, who kept referring to distinctively different parts of the Red Storm’s hard-fought, 68-63 loss to No. 2 Syracuse on Sunday.
There was the first half, which found Syracuse leading 39-27. There was the first 16 minutes of second half, where the Red Storm didn’t just tie the game but took the lead three times. And finally, there was the final four minutes.
“I thought in the first half we were tentative. We were not aggressive or effective in any aspect of play,” said Lavin. “In the second half we played well enough to rally from behind, but in the last four minutes, Syracuse got good looks at the basket and we did not execute well enough on offense to win.”
Syracuse senior C.J. Fair hit two big shots from the same spot as part of his 21 points – about 15 feet from the basket on the right baseline – on ensuing possessions within the final three minutes to ruin a St. John’s second-half comeback, which drew the longest and loudest cheers from the crowd of 16,357.
Fair had already tied the game at 58-58 with 6:51 to go, then made two more baseline jumpers in the final three minutes as the Orange (10-0) were able to open a lead as large as seven points.
The Red Storm (6-3) chipped away from the 12-point halftime deficit and was able to tie the contest at 53-53 on three free throws by rookie Rysheed Jordan with 9:16 to go. There were four lead changes and three ties as Syracuse became the second highlyranked team to narrowly escape the weekend.
Junior guard D’Angelo Harrison led St. John’s (6-3) with 21 points on 6-of-19 shooting, and also contributed six rebounds. Jordan scored a career-high 13 points, bolstered by a 9-of-9 effort at the line, and grabbed a career-best six boards as well. Sophomore JaKarr Sampson added 12 with six boards despite being limited by foul trouble.
“It hurts to lose but it hurts to lose to Syracuse in particular,” Harrison said. “Certain things that you can take away from the last four minutes of the game, that’s what we will watch the most.”
Sampson was hardest on himself.
“I’ve been thinking about those since I missed them,” he said of two misses at the line with St. John’s trailing 62-60 and 3:12 to play. “I feel like that was a big part of the game. I feel like it turned the momentum.”
St. John’s concluded a two-year series with San Francisco on Wednesday, Dec. 18, when the San Francisco Dons traveled to Queens. Lavin’s legendary late father, Cap Lavin, was a standout at USF from 1949-52. Cap Lavin was honored by USF when the Red Storm traveled to San Francisco in December of 2012.