By Jason Schott – BrooklynFans.com Reporter / Assignment Editor - @JESchott19
St. John’s used a strong second half to beat Minnesota 70-61 in the opening night of the preseason NIT on Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. They will face Gonzaga, who beat Georgia in the nightcap, in the championship game on Friday night.
D’Angelo Harrison led the way for St. John’s with 19 points despite shooting a dreadful 5-for-17 from the field, including 2-6 on three-pointers. He also had 9 rebounds and 2 assists.
Harrison said of the win, “First of all, it was a big win for us, but we’re not done yet. Coach (Steve Lavin) stressed that just now in the locker room. My teammates did a good job of staying with me, just say, shoot the ball, you’re a shooter, shoot it. Dom (Sir’Dominic Pointer) was one of the them, we started in it the whole game, we pulled it out.”
Rysheed Jordan had 18 points on 5-for-14 shooting (0-4 on 3-pointers), with 7 rebounds and 3 assists. Chris Obepka had 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Sir’Dominic Pointer had 8 points (4-6 FG, 0-1 3-pt) and 11 rebounds. he said of the team, “We’ve done it for four years, we have a good team this year so it’s time for us to grow up and come together. The first half we played like little kids. Missed some assignments. Second half we had to man up and we got in them, stayed together and we came back.”
Minnesota got off to a good start and led St. John’s 40-31 at halftime, led by 13 from Nate Mason in the first half.
In the second half, Minnesota kept their lead and were up 59-54 on Andre Hollins free throws with 6:29 left in the game. Those were the last points they would score for the next 4 minutes and 16 seconds, as St. John’s went on a 13-0 run in that span, led by 8 points from D’Angelo Harrison, to take a 67-59 lead.
Harrison had a four-point play at the 2:22 mark that made it 65-59 St. John’s.
He said of that play, “I saw the ball go in the basket and those kind of plays are St. John’s basketball right there, a lot of energy. Brought a lot of energy to the game. Big play in the game. Credit everyone. Team win, team win today.”
Hollins got a layup with 1:13 left to break the scoreless streak, and Chris Obepka hit a few free throws in the last minute to seal the win.
St. John’s Head Coach Steve Lavin said of the win, “What I shared after the game with the kids, with the group, with the team, was the fact it was clearly a total team victory. Sometimes in coaching, we use platitudes or cliches, they call it ‘coach speak,’ and it’s not really, you know, accurate. And this was a game that was a total team victory.
“And so that’s what stood out to me, you could feel it in the huddles. You could feel it on our bench, even with our reserves, our manager, Father Rock, the staff. People were locked in, and so that is what stood out to me, and I thought as a group, they really lost themselves to the game to defense to the front of the jersey, St. John’s, and there was a sense that it was just a very cohesive well-knit unit that was playing in concert together.
“That’s who we have to be if we are going to have a special season. I shared with them one of John Wooden’s favorite quote, it’s amazing what can get accomplished when no one cares who gets the credit. And I thought time was a selfless team, a selfless team, a selfless effort tonight,” said Lavin.
Minnesota Coach Richard Pitino said of the second half, “Well certainly give them credit. They turned up the heat in the second half, and they made a lot of hustle plays. They made a lot of loose ball plays. We talked about rebounding, was a huge key, and they beat us on the glass 51-39. They out-rebounded us; they out-hustled us, they out-scrapped us. So give them credit. They are a very talented team. We knew that and certainly we’ve got to give them credit because they were very good tonight and we were just not so good.”
On what Harrison brings as a clutch player, Pitino said, “Yeah, from the foul line, he’s a good player. I coached him as an assistant. He’s so lethal, just because he can make shots from anywhere. Six steals as well, you have to give him credit and he played 40 minutes in a fast-paced game and made a big shot when one think he was so tired. So he gritted it out. They gritted it out and you have to give them all the credit.”
Minnesota was led by Nate Mason, who had 15 points, just two of which came in the second half, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists. Carlos Morris had 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists.