St. John's had a lot of success against ranked opponents at Madison Square Garden last season, but Steve Lavin's squad this year hardly resembles the one that knocked off the likes of Duke and UConn. Which is to say that what happened last season doesn't tell us much about what will happen this year: Of the seven players in the Johnnies' rotation, six of them are newcomers. And so, after starting the season with three wins at Carnesecca Arena, the inexperienced Red Storm faced their first tough test last night against No. 16 Arizona, in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer at the Garden. They'd lose the game, 81-72, but for a team that's still learning to play together, there were some things to like.
Here's Lavin after the game, via the AP:
"It was a great learning opportunity and as disappointed as we are in the loss there was a lot to take away," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said. "Some of the positive things were the resiliency we showed, the ability to take a punch and counter punch. We competed against a team that has more size and depth."
We learned last night that St. John's can at least hang with a ranked team, and at times, can even appear to have the upper hand: A 12-2 second-half run gave the Red Storm a 66-58 lead. And we saw that while their team is undersized, the quick St. John's guards can cause problems for a good opponent. But we also saw how foul trouble can hurt a team that uses such a small rotation. (Point guard Nurideen Lindsey, who led St. John's with eighteen points, fouled out with just over four minutes to play, and Arizona, which had just taken a one-point lead, would pull away in the final minutes.)
Now that this young St. John's team has one tough Garden game under its belt, by the way, it'll play another one today in the tournament's consolation game. Tip-off for their matchup against No. 18 Texas A&M is at 4:30 p.m.