St. John’s stormed back and held on all at once.
The Red Storm rallied from a 10-point second half deficit and later fended off a late Detroit counterattack to beat the Titans, 77-74, at Carnesecca Arena. The Titans opened up a 10-point lead to begin the second half and nursed a seven-point advantage with nine minutes to play, but the Johnnies used a 15-4 run late in the second half to turn a seven-point deficit into a five-point cushion.
Comfortably, or so it thought, ahead by five with seven seconds to play, St. John’s surrendered a Ray McCallum uncontested layup with three ticks remaining on the clock, then watched with bated breath as Detroit’s Juwan Howard Jr. intercepted the in-bound pass and flung up a last-ditch, 28-foot heave.
It felt short, as did the Titans from downtown for most of the afternoon.
Dissuaded from coming inside because of the dominant defensive performance by freshman center Chris Obekpa, who swatted eight shots in the game, Detroit spent much of the contest launching shots from long range. Star junior guard Ray McCallum was the biggest culprit, hoisting a dozen 3-pointers, especially late in the shot clock.
McCallum and senior forward Doug Anderson flashed their exceptional athleticism with a pair of jaw-dropping dunks and strong finishes inside, but the scoring duo was inefficient for most of the game, notably in the second half when the team came unhinged. The coach’s son and former JuCo transfer teamed up for 29 points, but needed 38 shots to do it. When the duo went cold late, the Red Storm capitalized.
Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison led all scorers with 22 points and the hot-shooting Phil Greene IV added 20 of his own on just 12 shots. Amir Garrett chipped in 15 points and 11 big rebounds coming off the bench, joining forces with Obekpa inside to form a rigid steal around the basket. Whatever shots Obekpa couldn’t get a hand on, Garrett, a swingman at heart, corralled off the rim.
St. John’s shot much better in the second half (57-percent) than it did in the first (37.5-percent), but turnovers kept Detroit in the game. Despite shooting just 35.5-percent from the floor, the Titans hung tight, scoring 17 points off 16 Red Storm turnovers.
Poor shooting and big-time play down the stretch by Harrison, who had been in Steve Lavin’s doghouse during the team’s two exhibition games, ultimately did in the Titans.
Detroit, so long as McCallum and Anderson are there, still has a strong chance to repeat as Horizon League champs despite losing three starters from last year’s 22-win team. But with preseason conference favorite Valparaiso eyeing a changing of the guard, and Cleveland State and Youngstown State, which notched an impressive upset win on the road against Georgia last night, chomping at the bit, Detroit has a lot to improve to win a winnable league without its hallmark member (Butler).