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The Red Storm team that took the floor last weekend to face Niagara looked more like a well-oiled machine than the young, inexperienced group the club actually is. Despite a slight hiccup late in the first half, St. John's - now ranked No. 21 in the Coaches Poll - rolled to its third win of the year, a 92-59 trouncing of the Purple Eagles.
"The guys for the most part played within the St. John's system," head coach Mike Jarvis said after the game. "They're getting there."
The game could not have started better for St. John's (3-1), which took advantage of Niagara's sloppy play early to cruise out to a 13-point advantage, as all five starters scored during the stretch.
The lead ballooned to 15, 22-7, when freshman Omar Cook threw the ball the length of the court to a wide open Sharif Fordham for the layup with 11:25 remaining in the first half. But Niagara (2-1) would finally answer the call, making a game of it in the waning moments of the first half.
"That was a big part of the game," said Niagara's Daryl Greene, who finished with 19 points in the game. 'We got down early. We just didn't come out to play."
Greene and Demond Stewart, the game's leading scorer with 20, were all the offense Niagara had for most of the first half and scored all the points for the Purple Eagles during a drive to cut SJU's lead. A three by Greene and two free throws by Stewart at 3:02 cut the Red Storm's advantage to six, 34-28, but that was as close as Niagara would get.
"We got a little fancy and carried away with ourselves," Jarvis said.
The run by Niagara hit home with some of Jarvis' first year players, who were schooled prior to the game about not taking their opponents lightly.
"A lot of teams take these type of games for granted," said junior transfer Alpha Bangura.
St. John's didn't.
Cook and fellow freshman Willie Shaw combined to score the final nine points of the half to give the Red Storm a 15-point lead, 43-28, at halftime.
"We had them in trouble," said Niagara coach Joe Mihalich. "Mike Jarvis teams always play hard. It's a quality you want your team to have."
The Red Storm did not let up in the second half, though the Purple Eagles did try to keep it close. Three threes in the first two minutes Niagara pulled to within 12, but St. John's went on a 23-2 run, with six players scoring and the Red Storm emerging with a 73-41 lead with 11:22 remaining.
Jarvis was praised by Mihalich for his ability to get his young team playing so well so quickly. The Niagara coach said after the game that prior to the season he thought his team caught a break catching the young Red Storm club so early in the season, something he scoffed at following his team's defeat.
'They're playing like vets," he said.
Jarvis credited the hard work of the players for the team's early success, which includes a win over a ranked Kentucky team and a close loss to No. 4 Kansas.
"I try to get them to want the same thing I want," Jarvis said. "They're a little farther along than I thought they'd be. ["I'm] pleasantly surprised."
"He allows you to play your game," Bangura said.
Some of the younger players had solid outings against Niagara, including freshman Kyle Cuffe, who scored 16 points with five rebounds. Willie Shaw also had 16, as did Cook, who also dished out 12 assists, five short of the school record he set in his last game against Stony Brook.
Junior Anthony Glover added 13 points and six rebounds and Bangura scored 12 in just 17 minutes. Senior captain Reggie Jessie had just six points, but dished out seven assists and grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds.
Next up for St. John's is a date with Jarvis' old team, the George Washington Colonials, Saturday at 3 p.m. in the BB&T Classic. It is the first time Jarvis will coach against his former school since taking over at St. John's more than two years ago.
"We're looking forward to it," Jarvis said.
Notes: Collectively, the team shot it best by far against Niagara, connecting on 37-of-61 shots from the field for 60.7 percent. The team also fired up far less three point attempts, hitting on 6-of-11. The team was 12-of-16 at the charity stripe.
The lopsided score allowed Jarvis to empty his bench late, much to the pleasure of the 6,008 in attendance at Alumni Hall. Walk-ons John Parker, Christian Diaz and Jon Scheiman all got into the game, as did 7-foot-3 freshman project Curtis Johnson. Johnson missed his only field goal attempt, but hit one of two free throws and grabbed a defensive rebound in the final minute.
©2000 Community Newspaper Group
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