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Red Storm turns up heat on San Fran Dons

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The Red Storm (6-5) overcame a sluggish first few minutes and rolled to a 92-77 win over the visiting Dons. And they did it in unusual fashion, receiving key contributions from Reggie Jessie and Alpha Bangura, two players who have been less than stellar through the early going this season.

Jessie came off the bench for the second consecutive game after having started in the team's previous 42 encounters and responded well to his reduced roll, recording a near triple-double, scoring 16 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and dishing out seven assists. The senior out of Queensbridge was 7-of-9 from the field.

"The way he responded ended up being a very, very positive thing for this team," head coach Mike Jarvis said of Jessie's benching. "He picked it up another notch. He was going to do whatever he was asked to do."

Bangura also came off the bench, scoring 17 of his 19 points in the first half and connecting on 9-of-10 from the field. Bangura made up for the sluggish play of starters Omar Cook and Willie Shaw in the first half, as the freshman backcourt combo hit on just 1-of-13 from the field during the first 20 minutes.

"In the first half he was on his game," said Jarvis of Bangura. "He let the game come to him."

A transfer from Monmouth who sat out last season, Bangura has struggled for playing time this year. He led the Northeast Conference in scoring his freshman year, but has had trouble adjusting under Jarvis, something he thinks he has corrected.

"I just tried to come out and be patient," Bangura said. "I never go out there and try to be selfish. I just want to be able to help the team produce however I can. I guess I'm just used to scoring.

With St. John's trailing 8-4 after a Chris Barideaux basket at 14:30, the Red Storm finally started to break San Francisco's zone defense. Kyle Cuffe started a 13-4 run seconds later that lasted four minutes and gave St. John's a 21-12 advantage with 10:41 remaining in the first half.

San Francisco (6-7) would not go away quietly, however, keeping the game close and pulling to within four at 5:27 on an Andre Brown bucket following back-to-back thunderous dunks by SJU's Anthony Glover and the Dons' Tayo Akinsete.

But St. John's got rolling again. Bangura scored eight of the team's 15 points to close out the half, as the Red Storm lead ballooned to 16, 42-26, in the final minute. But a layup by Barideaux and three made foul shots by Shamell Stallworth with no time remaining closed the gap to 11, 42-31 at the break.

"St. John's just dominated us," said San Francisco head coach Phil Matthews. "I thought the zone bothered them at first. We gave them a lot of open looks and they took advantage of it. We didn't compete today."

Cook and Shaw finally found their rhythm in the second half, as junior Anthony Glover continued to play well on the inside. St. John's scored the first seven points of the second half, while turning up the heat defensively against the Dons, who immediately began to force shots and cough up the ball.

Cook's three-pointer at 14:21 gave St. John's a commanding 23-point lead, 62-39.

The Red Storm let up slightly on defense, allowing San Francisco to inch closer, but never within striking distance. The closest the Dons would get was 14 points in the final minutes of the game.

For Jarvis and Co., the win was made to order for a team that has struggled mightily in the early going, including upset losses to Jarvis' former team George Washington and to two local schools, Fordham and Hofstra, but the coach was still not completely satisfied.

"I would have liked for it to be more comfortable," Jarvis said. "Overall it was a pretty good effort. We're at a point now where I would have liked to have been in mid-November. I think the team will continue to get better. We're a team in the making."

Glover, who finished with a game-high 20 points, said he was pleased with the way the team executed its gameplan.

"This game shows how hard we work in practice," the junior said. "I think we understand what it takes to win a game."

Cook finished with a double-double as well, scoring 16 with 10 assists and just three turnovers. A Shaw three in the final minute gave him 12 for the game.

Notes: The Red Storm shot 58.3 percent for the game, 69.2 percent in the second half, outrebounded San Francisco 34-30 and forced 19 turnovers, including 10 steals. St. John's was 0-for-7 from behind the arc in the first half and 5-of-6 in the second.

Sharif Fordham started in Jessie's stead, but played only nine minutes. Mohamed Diakite, Cuffe, Donald Emanuel, Jack Wolfinger and Abe Keita all saw action in the game.

Darrell Tucker led the Dons with 17 points, followed by Stallworth with 12 and Akinsete with 10.

St. John's was slated to open its Big East season Wednesday at Alumni Hall against Virginia Tech (6-6) and will play in Storrs, Conn. Saturday against the University of Connecticut Huskies at 1 p.m. The game against the Huskies will be televised nationally on CBS.

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