NEW YORK (AP) — St. John’s had five players for the first half, six for the second. The Red Storm’s coach was about 1,000 miles away. Sounds like a recipe for a young team to lose its fourth straight game.
Not this team.
Moe Harkless had 13 points and 16 rebounds to lead short-handed St. John’s to a 56-50 victory over Fordham on Saturday in the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden.
It was the Red Storm’s first game since Nurideen Lindsey transferred leaving them with a six-man rotation. Malik Stith sat out the first half for a minor team violation involving academics.
“Once you get that second wind, I could keep playing another 40 minutes, probably,” joked Harkless, one of four players who did play all 40 minutes for the Red Storm.
When he was asked if he could play another 40 if there was a game tomorrow, Harkless answered: “That might be a different story.”
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin was not on the bench for the sixth time this season as he recovers from prostate cancer surgery.
“Big W! For a number of reasons!” Lavin texted to The Associated Press from a high school tournament in Florida where he is recruiting. “Our first game post Nurideen … payoff of the work put in the past week … puts wind in the sails and bounce in kids step … chance to go into Christmas on an uptick.”
Lavin has missed the last five games as he tries to regain stamina after the surgery on Oct. 6. He said there’s no trouble sitting in a gym watching a high school game or having dinner with an alum. This was the kind of game that a coach on the mend could afford to miss.
The Red Storm (5-5) appeared to take control with an 18-0 run that spanned halftime and gave them a 42-26 lead with 16:53 to play.
But the Rams (4-6) had thoughts back to last year’s game when they overcame a 21-point deficit in the second half to win 84-81.
“I told the young players to just stay focused, keep your head in the game,” Fordham junior Chris Gaston said he told his teammates about making another run to beat St. John’s. “We started making the comeback. We didn’t turn it over. We stayed focused and played smart. The last couple of minutes, when the crowd got into it, I had the same feeling as last year.”
Fordham managed to close to 53-50 on a dunk by Kervin Bristol with 1:56 to play and had a chance to tie it after D’Angelo Harrison of St. John’s missed a driving jumper.
Bryan Smith threw up an air ball on a 3-point attempt and Fordham got the rebound but Gaston’s shot was blocked and the 35-second shot clock ran out.
St. John’s, which had lost three straight, sealed the win by going 3 of 4 at the free throw line over the final 26 seconds.
“They had the momentum and they were making shots,” St. John’s assistant coach Mike Dunlap said of Fordham’s run. “In the first half we were fresher and able to transition and get to their zone before it set up, especially the last 2:30 of the first half.”
St. John’s closed the half on an 11-0 run, with Harkless getting two jumpers, one a 3-pointer.
Harrison had 15 points for St. John’s, which finished with a 51-37 rebound advantage.
“We’ve had trouble on the boards and they’re a good rebounding team and have done a good job on the boards and I thought, with Moe leading the way with 16, we rebounded by committee and that’s a real positive sign we’re growing,” Dunlap said.
Branden Frazier had 17 points and Gaston added 11 points and 14 rebounds for the Rams, who shot just 29.7 percent (19 for 64) from the field, including 8 of 29 from 3-point range.
Gaston, a junior forward, had a double-double for the ninth time this season and the 43rd time in his career.
“Our goals going in were to keep them off the offensive glass which we didn’t do when they had 19,” Fordham coach Tom Pecora said. “We wanted them to have to beat us over the top (of the zone) and we didn’t want to turn the ball over and we had 12. That’s two of the three we did. The second-shot opportunities killed us and we shot the ball poorly due to their length.”