NEW YORK — Steve Lavin has no idea how work is going to be every day.
Just three days after playing one of its worst games of the season, St. John’s came up with a very solid effort in a 67-63 victory over No. 20 Notre Dame on Tuesday night, the Fighting Irish’s second straight loss.
It was hard to believe the Red Storm were the same team that lost 67-51 to then-No. 19 Georgetown on the same Madison Square Garden court.
“I told you expect the unexpected,” Lavin said of his roster that doesn’t have a senior or junior on it. “Buckle up and enjoy the roller coaster ride with this young team that at times is maddening but they balance it out with some brilliant play.”
The man was right and it all happened in one game.
Playing man-to-man rather than a zone defense as they have all season, St. John’s started out strong, unlike the previous game, and held a 32-31 lead at halftime.
“We came out very intense today,” forward Amir Garrett said. “Against Georgetown that definitely wasn’t the we played. Tonight we came. We came out hard, with intensity, very fierce.”
The Red Storm (10-7, 2-3 Big East), who had lost two straight and four of five, had a 12-point lead midway through the second half and despite giving it all up, they managed to score the game’s final six points for the win, their third straight over the Fighting Irish.
“We knew they were going to make a run,” Garrett said. “In the last minutes we had to find a way to sustain the lead.”
They did and they used their mode of choice this season: the blocked shot.
St. John’s entered the game leading the nation in blocked shots at 8.56 per game. The Red Storm had nine, the two biggest on two of Notre Dame’s last three possessions in the final 20 seconds.
Harrison, a 6-foot-3 guard, blocked a shot by 6-10 Tom Knight and Sampson made one of two free throws with 19.7 seconds left, Chris Obekpa, who leads the nation with 5.13 blocks per game, got his second of the game when he blocked Pat Connaughton’s drive off his head and out of bounds with 7.6 seconds left.
“He didn’t see me,” Harrison said of his third block of the game. “So I’ve been watching how these other guys block shots in practice so I contended and got the block. … I thought it was a foul at first but I get another one on the stat sheet.
“Chris got the block after me when he blocked it off his head. He said ‘I got your back.’ I felt like I was a shot blocker today.”
JaKarr Sampson scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half for St. John’s while Phil Greene had 13 and Garrett 11.
St. John’s, which came into the game last in the conference in free throw shooting at 61.4 percent, made 12 of 15 from the line with Sampson going 7 of 9.
Eric Atkins had a season-high 21 points for Notre Dame (14-3, 2-2), which used an 18-4 run to wipe out the double-digit deficit and take a 61-59 lead with 4:27 to play.
Notre Dame’s last lead came at 63-61 on a drive by Jerian Grant with 2:50 left.
“I loved how we fought back and gave ourselves a chance to win,” Notre Dane coach Mike Brey said. “I think they played great and made big buckets to go along with big free throws.
“I think for us to win against anybody in this league, our offensive efficiency has to be for more than 25 minutes. We scratched and clawed.”
Harrison, the second-leading scorer in the Big East with a 20.6 average, hit a 3-pointer with 2:32 left to give the Red Storm the lead for good at 64-63. Harrison took just three shots in the first half. His only field goals of the game were 3-pointers and he finished with eight points.
Grant had 14 points for Notre Dame and Jack Cooley, who was limited to 18 minutes because of foul trouble, added 10.
“They did a good job of pressuring the ball,” Notre Dame’s Garrick Sherman said. “We really couldn’t get any offensive rhythm in the last two minutes just because of their ball pressure. … We could have done a better job of attacking.”
“They really guarded the heck out of us with their speed and over the course of time it wore on us,” he said.
Things really changed for the Red Storm in 72 hours.
“We were the meat last game,” said St. John’s guard Jamal Branch who made his first start of the season and had with eight points. “We were lunch meat.”
The teams play again March 5 at Notre Dame.
NO. 12 CREIGHTON 79, N. IOWA 68
OMAHA, Neb. — Doug McDermott scored 21 of his 31 points in the second half and No. 12 Creighton pulled away for a win over Northern Iowa.
The Bluejays (17-1, 6-0 Missouri Valley Conference) won their 11th straight game and are off to their best start in program history.
Anthony James scored a season-high 25 points and Jake Koch added 19 to lead Northern Iowa (9-9, 2-4).
McDermott had his second straight 30-point game and fifth of the season. He came into the game off a season-best 39-point night against Missouri State last Friday.