December 21, 2014

The only things that have surprised St. John's coach Steve Lavin during his squad's hot start are the rare times when his players don't play the brand of basketball he expects.

The 20th-ranked Red Storm often respond to his message quickly.

St. John's seeks a sixth straight victory Monday night as it hosts a Long Beach State team in the midst of another traditionally brutal nonconference stretch.

The Red Storm (9-1) are off to their best start since 2009-10, the season before Lavin replaced Norm Roberts. They haven't lost since falling 73-66 to then-No. 10 Gonzaga on Nov. 28, but Lavin wasn't impressed with the latest victory.

St. John's fell behind by 15 points at halftime to Saint Mary's on Friday before he gave his players a verbal lashing in the locker room. The Red Storm scored 27 of the first 35 points of the second half and pulled out a 53-47 win despite shooting a season-worst 35.8 percent.

Sir'Dominic Pointer scored all 11 of his points in the final 20 minutes, and he's shooting 78.4 percent in the second half on the season.

''Coach talked to us at halftime and said that wasn't St. John's basketball," said D'Angelo Harrison, who scored a team-high 21 points. "I think they scored 14 points in the second half. That's St. John's basketball."

Harrison is averaging 23.3 points over his last four and leads the Big East in scoring at 19.8 per game for a St. John's team that ranks just eighth in the 10-team conference with 71.3 per contest.

The Red Storm have been successful largely due to their defense, which ranks in the top 20 nationally in opponents' field-goal percentage at 36.7. That's part of the reason St. John's is exactly where Lavin expects it to be.

''You look at the schedule (before the season starts), you put Ws and Ls. There were combinations of (being) 9-1, 9-2, undefeated (through a certain amount of games)," Lavin said. "We had high expectations for ourselves. We also realize we have a lot of work to do.

''The concern would be if (Friday would have been) a road game in the Big East, we would find ourselves down 30 at Villanova.''

Another ranked team just found itself in trouble after a slow start against Long Beach State. The 49ers (5-7) led No. 9 Texas with roughly 13 minutes left Saturday before falling 78-68.

''In the end of the day, they were too physical, too big and too good,'' coach Dan Monson said.

Mike Caffey scored 23 points for Long Beach State, which hopes to avoid a fourth straight defeat. It will be facing its third consecutive ranked opponent, a stretch that began with a 60-59 loss at then-No. 18 San Diego State on Dec. 10.

Following this contest, the 49ers will play Dec. 28 at Syracuse - where St. John's won Dec. 6 - and at No. 4 Louisville two days later.

Monson has made a habit of putting his Long Beach State teams through a gauntlet of tough opponents before Big West play. This is the fourth straight season the 49ers will play at least four ranked opponents.

This will be the first meeting between these schools.

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