ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Trailing by double digits against Arizona State on Saturday night, St. John’s went small and fast.
Red Storm coach Steve Lavin started what he called his diminutive five-guard lineup in the second half to speed up the game and St. John’s forced 11 turnovers to defeat the Sun Devils 67-58 and capture the championship of the Great Alaska Shootout.
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“They were opportunistic. They were able to cover a lot of ground defensively and get to shooters and seemed to unnerve Arizona State,” Lavin said of the small lineup.
Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek agreed the pressure was the difference.
“It worked in their favor,” he said. “They were very aggressive in it. We needed to be stronger with the ball in some cases, make better decisions in other cases.”
St. John’s shot just 26 percent in the opening period. Ty Abbott’s third and fourth 3-pointers gave the Sun Devils (3-2) a 12-point lead, 23-11, with 4:44 remaining. St. John’s cut it to 10, 30-20, at halftime.
“We were looking for combinations and ways to attack their zone, and not having much success,” Lavin said.
St. John’s opened the second half with a 1-2-2 zone, putting someone on the ball. Lavin compared it to harassing a quarterback in football and limiting the point guard’s ability to pass.
“There’s not that ability to window shop, or search over the top of your defense,” he said. “It forced them to start running, and allowed our defense to move up the floor and pressure farther up, which would cause some havoc.”
St. John’s whittled away at the lead, grabbing fast break opportunities off steals.
With Arizona clinging to a four-point lead with six minutes remaining, Paris Horne tipped in a missed free throw. Malik Stith stole the inbound pass and scored, then stole another one at the other end and drove the length of the floor for a layup, giving St. John’s its first lead since the opening minutes, 53-51.
St. John’s closed with a 21-7 run.
“We got a couple of easy baskets off of it, but for the most part, I think it really gave St. John’s an advantage,” Sendek said of the frontcourt pressure.
Arizona State had not seen that kind of pressure this year, he said, and made poor decisions.
“A couple of times, guys just took the ball right way from us,” Sendek said. “In some instances, it wasn’t even a trap. They just took the ball.”
Justin Brownlee led St. John’s with 20 points. Dwight Hardy had 14 and Horne finished with 11.
Abbott led all scorers with 22 for Arizona State and made 6 of 12 3-pointers.