D.J. Kennedy scored 18 points to lead St. John's to a 79-66 victory over Columbia on Wednesday night, giving coach Steve Lavin his first win with the Red Storm.
Lavin returned to the bench this season after working as an analyst for ESPN for the last seven years. He was the head coach at UCLA for seven seasons, reaching the NCAA tournament six times and advancing to the round of 16 five times.
''We all made our minds up to get the game ball and get it painted and sign it and give it to coach,'' St. John's guard Justin Burrell said. ''He means a lot to us. We're very appreciative of what he's done already.''
Lavin was touched by the gesture.
''You always want to have something like that because it means so much,'' Lavin said. ''But when you're coaching you really just want that 'W'.''
St. John's has not been to the NCAA tournament since 2002.
The Red Storm (1-1) were playing about 36 hours after losing their season-opener at Saint Mary's, Calif. 75-71.
''Don't worry we got a lot of sleep,'' Kennedy said. ''That was a long plane ride, we got a lot of sleep.''
The outlook around the campus has been upbeat to say the least with Lavin signing eight players to national letters of intent over the last week. Most scouting services have the class rated among the two or three best in the nation.
Justin Brownlee added 15 points for St. John's, while freshman Dwayne Polee II had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Noruwa Agho had 18 points for the Lions (1-2), while Brian Grimes added seven points and 14 rebounds.
Lavin's first home game started well with the Red Storm taking a 10-2 lead. St. John's was up 18-9 when Columbia started hitting from long range on the way to a 39-35 halftime lead.
The Lions missed their first five 3-point attempts then starting connecting in a 14-2 run where all but two of the points came on 3s. Columbia made eight of nine from beyond the rest of the half with freshman Dyami Starks making five straight 3s, all of his points in the game.
St. John's opened the second half with an 11-3 run to take a 46-42 lead with 17:21 to play. The Lions scored four points to tie it and then St. John's took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by Polee with 15:55 to play.
The Red Storm were able to pull away by suddenly connecting from long range, following Polee's tiebreaker with three more in the next three minutes.
Both teams hit 10 3s in the game, St. John's in 23 attempts, one more than Columbia.