Lavin has St. John's relevant again
Notebook: Wayne State finally solves No. 1 Findlay
Brian Lester, NCAA.com
Steve Lavin was real with his St. John’s basketball team when the season began. He had no choice. The Red Storm were 17-16 overall and 6-12 in the Big East last season.
“We talked from the beginning: let’s be honest, let’s deal in realism,” Lavin said. “We were tied for 13th last year. There’s no positive spin on that. Now let’s examine why and work on those specific areas so that we can increase or expand the odds of being more successful.”
The pep talk worked.
Despite a 76-61 conference loss to nationally ranked Notre Dame Saturday night at the Joyce Center that snapped a five-game win streak, the Red Storm have had success. Heading into the week, which includes a date with national power Syracuse on Wednesday, the Red Storm were 10-4 overall and 3-1 in league play.
Dwight Hardy is one of three players averaging in double figures, dropping in 16 points per game. Justin Brownlee is clicking for 14.6 points per outing. D.J. Kennedy is averaging 11.6 ppg.
All three are among 10 seniors on the roster.
“We have a group that has played together, so we can build and nurture the cohesive aspect and galvanize this group in their single-minded purpose to finish on a high note and go to the NCAA tournament," Lavin said. "That is a real plus for the team.”
What the Red Storm doesn’t have is the experience of postseason success. If that is going to change, St. John’s has to be ready to play at a high level.
“We don’t have anyone who has won a postseason game,” Lavin said. “At some point, we are going to have to have a breakthrough win or a stretch of games where the team can develop a lot of confidence.”
Need to Know
• Wayne State (Mich.) ended its run of disappointment against Findlay on Saturday. The Warriors snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Oilers with a 91-68 win at home.
UF went into the game ranked No. 1 in the nation in Division II.
UF trailed 51-33 at halftime and never recovered in this pivotal Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference South Division showdown.
The Warriors won by shooting a sizzling 61.5 percent from the field and out-rebounded UF 31-25. Mike Hollingsworth poured in 24 points and Bryan Smothers clicked for 19. WSU forced 19 turnovers.
• A balanced attack turned out to be the key to success for Amherst in its upset of Williams Saturday afternoon.
Five players scored in double figures for the Lord Jeffs, including 21 by Aaron Toomey. Toomey also grabbed eight rebounds and dished out five assists. His layup in the closing seconds of regulation knotted the game at 74-74.
Peter Kaasila had a double-double, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Connor Meehan added 16 in a battle between two of the 14 remaining unbeaten teams in Division III.
James Wang scored 27 to lead the Ephs, who owned a 36-34 edge at halftime.
• Georgia has a knack for winning close games this year. It won its 10th game of the season by single digits on Saturday, stunning 10th-ranked Kentucky 77-70 in front of 10,523 at Stegeman Coliseum.
It was the Bulldogs' ninth consecutive win, which is the longest streak by the program since the 1983 Final Four season.
Trey Thompkins scored 25 points to pace the Bulldogs, who led 41-30 at halftime but fell behind 56-55 with 10 minutes remaining. Georgia sealed the deal by connecting on 11 of 12 free throws. The Wildcats were held to their second lowest point total of the season.
Despite shooting a season-low 43.1 percent from the field, fifth-ranked Fort Hays State held off Southwest Baptist 74-71 on Saturday. Dominique Jones scored 17 points and dished out seven assists while Dijon Smith scored 15 points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked six shots. … Kirk Van Slyke scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half as Houston built a commanding 22-8 lead and held on for a 76-71 win over previously unbeaten UCF. Houston, which took a 36-21 lead into halftime, won with a stellar defensive effort, holding Marcus Jordan, the son of NBA legend Michael Jordan, to only 10 points. Jordan came in averaging 17.6 points per outing but missed his first five shots and never got on track. … Alex Rudolph drilled four treys to highlight his 22-point performance and Kris Noonan poured in 17 as Babson stunned No. 19 MIT 73-56 over the weekend. Babson shot 51.9 percent from the field and handed MIT its first conference-opening loss since the 2006-07 campaign. … Kemba Walker delivered in crunch time for No. 8 Connecticut on Saturday against No. 12 Texas, drilling a 3-pointer with one second left on the shot clock to put the Huskies up 80-77. Moments later, Walker (22 points) nailed a 15-foot jumper to lift UConn to a thrilling 82-81 win against the 12th-ranked Longhorns in Austin. …. Steve Djurickovic had a field day against No. 18 Illinois Wesleyan on Saturday, scoring 27 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out five assists in a 73-52 win in a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin battle. The Red Men limited the Titans to 30.4 percent shooting from the field. … West Liberty State grabbed the momentum right out of the gate against Glenville State on Saturday, storming out to a 23-2 lead and rolling to a 108-75 win. Jordan Fortney dropped in 22 points as the second-ranked Hilltoppers positioned themselves to rise to No. 1 in the nation in DII when the new poll is released on Tuesday. … Penn State ended its run of bad luck against nationally ranked opponents on Saturday, edging No. 18 Michigan State at the Bryce Jordan Center. The Nittany Lions, in the midst of a five-game stretch against Top 25 teams, had lost 10 consecutive games against ranked opponents. Talor Battle, held to 13 points despite being the Big Ten’s leading scorer, drilled a 12-foot jumper that put PSU ahead 65-62 with 18 seconds remaining.