NEW YORK (AP) — There can’t be a younger starting five than St. John’s had Wednesday night against West Virginia.
Five freshmen were introduced as the starting lineup for the Red Storm, and when the game was over they snapped a four-game losing streak with a 78-62 victory.
“We don’t look at it like that,” said Moe Harkless, who led the freshmen with 23 points and 13 rebounds, “we just go out there, play and try to have fun in the game.”
They had a blast in this one.
The Red Storm (9-11, 3-6 Big East) used runs of 8-0 and 9-0 to take a 36-20 halftime lead, and they led by as many as 21 points in the second half.
It was believed to be the first time St. John’s started five freshmen since the 1927-28 season with the team that went on to be known as “The Wonder Five.” Freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition from the early 1950s until 1972.
It wasn’t the first time West Virginia coach Bob Huggins went against an all-freshmen starting lineup.
“Unfortunately in 1992 I saw the Fab Five,” he said of Michigan’s famed freshmen class that beat his Cincinnati team 76-72 in the national semifinals. “I didn’t like that much. I didn’t like this a whole lot more. They’re talented.”
St. John’s looked nothing like the team that entered the game last in the 16-team conference in field goal percentage (42.2), finishing at 48.4 percent (31 of 64). They even improved their last-place 3-point percentage (24.4), making 4 of 12.
“We’re getting better every game,” Harkless said. “You can see it the way we played. Everybody did their job. It was a great collective effort.”
West Virginia (15-6, 5-3), which had won three straight and five of six, struggled offensively all game. The Mountaineers came in fourth in the Big East with a 46.6 shooting percentage but they finished at 35.4 percent (23 of 65).
Kevin Jones, who leads the Big East in scoring (20.7) and rebounding (11.5), finished with 26 points and 14 rebounds, but it wasn’t close to being enough.
“I asked our guys who think they’re so good, where would be without Number 5? What would our record be?” Huggins said, referring to Jones. “He’s been the most valuable player in the country.”
Jones said Huggins told the team he was disappointed with the effort.
“We know we can play better than that, but the better team won,” he said. “Now we can’t let one loss turn into two.”
Freshman D’Angelo Harrison, coming off a season-high 28 points against Villanova, had 19 points for the Red Storm, who had won just one of their first six games this season at Madison Square Garden.
“We did some things we haven’t done before,” said St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who has been in charge of the team as head coach Steve Lavin continues to recover from prostate cancer surgery on Oct. 6. “We rebounded against a very physical team and we took care of the ball. We ran. We ran in the beginning, the middle and the end.”
Darryl “Truck” Bryant had 16 points for the Mountaineers but he was 0 for 6 from the field in the first half, including missing three 3-point attempts as West Virginia went 2 of 10 from beyond the arc in the opening 20 minutes.
Any thoughts of a second-half rally for West Virginia dimmed quickly as the Red Storm opened the half on a 10-5 run that included 3s by Phil Green and Harkless. A drive by Sir’Dominic Pointer capped the spurt and made it 46-25.
West Virginia closed within 68-59 on a basket by Bryant with 2:46 to go, but that was as close as the Mountaineers would get.
“This was a learning experience. We closed it out,” Harkless said. “They went from down 20 to 10 but we closed it out.”
This was the Red Storm’s second straight win over West Virginia after losing 10 in a row in the series. The Mountaineers had won five straight at St. John’s.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)