The Huskies erased a 15-point second-half lead, but the Red Storm (15-8, 7-4 Big East) went 9-of-10 from the foul line in the final 1:47 to hold on for a 71-65 victory. The Red Storm finished 24-of-31 from the line (77.4 percent).
“We shoot free throws before practice with the coaches and again after practice to simulate a game when we're tired,” said JaKarr Sampson. “I've seen an improvement.”
D'Angelo Harrison, the second-leading scorer in the Big East with an 18.9 average and the player St. John's has relied on all season, was on the bench for almost all of the 15-1 run that got the Huskies (15-6, 5-4 Big East) back in the game.
Harrison, who has been playing with a very swollen ring finger on his shooting hand, was on the bench for almost eight minutes at the start of the second half in what was a teaching move for Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin.
“The thinking is sometimes when a player is going through a tough stretch you can help them by sitting on the bench,” Lavin said. “He gets to see the game from a different prism or lens. It can be like smelling salts. It can snap a kid's head back so he can see what's needed at that point.”
Harrison had seven points in the Red Storm's closing run that began at a 53-51 deficit with 4:30 to play. He finished with 11 points, seven boards, three steals and made 4-of-4 free throws during the Johnnies’ 16-of-18 performance from the charity stripe in the last 9:49 of the game.
Freshman forward JaKarr Sampson had 18 points to lead St. John's to its sixth win in seven games. St. John’s only active scholarship upperclassman, Marco Bourgault, hit all three of his 3-point tries as part of an 11-point effort.
The win was big for St. John's, which needed the victory to bounce back from a disappointing showing at Georgetown, where the team shot a season-low 31 percent from the field, ending a five-game winning streak.
“At this stage of the year you don't grade victories in the Big East,” said Lavin. "Chalk it up. Move forward. Do the best you can to improve in areas that have to be addressed and get ready for the next game."
St. John's played without point guard Jamal Branch who sprained the MCL in his left knee in the loss to Georgetown. Branch, a transfer from Texas A&M, became eligible on Dec. 21 and is averaging 8.3 points over 10 games.
Things get a little tough for St. John's in the coming week. The Red Storm first make a 300-mile road trip upstate to meet No. 9 Syracuse on Sunday, Feb. 10, for a 1 p.m. tip on ESPN, before flying west to face No. 11 Louisville for a Valentine’s Day meeting at 9 p.m. on ESPN/ESPN2.