NEW YORK (AP) — It took one of the nation’s least experienced teams 20 minutes to start looking like a team of veterans.
Nurideen Lindsey scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half to lead St. John’s to a 74-59 victory over William & Mary on Monday night in the opening round of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
The Red Storm has only one player back from last season’s squad that went 21-12 and made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002. It looked that way as William & Mary took a 33-26 halftime lead.
St. John’s shot just 32.3 percent from the field (10 for 31), including 2 of 9 from 3-point range, in the first half and forced only nine turnovers, a staple of the pressure defense that allows the Red Storm to take advantage of its speed and athleticism.
The stats were decidedly different in the second half as the Red Storm forced 12 turnovers — turning them into 21 points — and shot 67.9 percent (19 of 28) from the field.
“I think in the first half the guys came out a little tight. We were definitely excited about the game but we weren’t ready to play,” said Lindsey, one of six newcomers on the roster. “In the second half we turned it up a notch and got more intense.”
God’sgift Achiuwa and Moe Harkless both added 17 points for the Red Storm (1-0), who were without head coach Steve Lavin, who is recovering from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. Assistant coach Mike Dunlap has been in charge of the program while Lavin recovers.
Quinn McDowell had 20 points for William & Mary (0-1), which made seven 3-pointers in taking the seven-point halftime lead.
McDowell scored to open the second half for a nine-point lead but the Red Storm went on a 22-5 run that saw them make 10 of 14 shots, all but two from inside. Sir’Dominic Pointer’s 3 gave St. John’s a 48-40 lead.
Julian Boatner hit a 3 for William & Mary, but the Red Storm scored the next nine points for a 57-43 lead with 9:30 to play.
“We were disappointed in the first half, then came out with intensity and the crowd got behind us,” said freshman D’Angelo Harrison, who had 14 points. “This brought us together. Almost every game will be an experience for us. We got the jitters out. That will carry over to practice tomorrow and to Wednesday’s game, too.”
St. John’s, which didn’t commit a turnover in the second half, will host Lehigh on Wednesday.
Lindsey said the difference in St. John’s defense was energy.
“The guys knew defensively our energy level wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” he said. “We put a lot of pressure on those guys in the second half. That was the reason the press turned out the way it did.”
William & Mary returned four starters and 12 letter winners from last season and it looked that way in the first half.
“Good 20 minutes and bad 20 minutes,” William & Mary coach Tony Shaver said. “We were composed for the first 20, then they extended the pressure and we didn’t handle it very well. They made some good adjustments and we gave up too many layups.
“They may be young but they are also very talented. My concern was how we would play and for 22 minutes we were good at it. We just didn’t handle their higher level of intensity.”
Harkless, the most heralded member of St. John’s recruiting class, said there was no way to predict how the first game would go.
“But it’s a great feeling,” he said. “If we play team basketball like that we’ll be fine this year.”
Former Purdue coach Gene Keady serves as Lavin’s special assistant and adviser.
“I hope he’s happy with tonight,” said Keady, who gave Lavin his first coaching position. “He’s starting to get back to normal. He laughs a lot now. He walks a lot. He’s making some progress about getting back to a normal life. We’re anxious to get him back but Coach Dunlap has done a tremendous job of leading us. I can’t say enough about that.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)