“Fresh Five” starting to believe in one another
NEW YORK – After a 14-point lead had been whittled away to a point against the hottest team in the Big East,St. John’sdidn’t turn to their usual suspects among their calvary of freshmen – star forward Moe Harkless or guard D’Angelo Harrison – with the game in the balance versus Notre Dame.
For the record, the initial plan was to get the ball to one of the aforementioned two – Harkless finished with 22 points and nine rebounds while Harrison had 15 points and five rebounds – but when the Irish turned up the pressure on the pair, it was another freshman, forward Amir Garrett, who joined the team in mid-December and the owner of a 96 miles-per-hour fastball, that came to the forefront.
When’s he not playing basketball at St. John’s, Garrett, a Los Angeles native, is a pitching prospect within the Cincinnati Reds organization. He will more than likely play Minor League Baseball over the summer after being picked up in the 22nd round of last year’s MLB Amateur Draft. But that’s neither here nor now. At this precise moment on this Saturday with the clock ticking down while the winds were howling outside New York’s Madison Square Garden and inside, the crowd grew louder amidst the ruckus surrounding him, Garrett heard only one voice.
“I heard (sssistant) coach Rico (Hines) on the sidelines and he said ‘go to work,’” Garrett said. “That was the only thing that went through my mind. I just went to the basket.”
Garrett was able to slice through the lane and his runner lifted the Johnnies to a three-point lead that would stand after Notre Dame’s Alex Dragievich’s 3-pointer rimmed off. The win for St. John’s(13-16, 6-10 Big East) was its third in a row. The final play and execution by Garrett demonstrates the young Red Storm players are molding into a unit that is not afraid of the big stage.
“I feel like everybody on the team can take a last shot,”Harrison said. “Nobody is different than anybody; I tried to get it and Amir got it and made the play. I give a whole bunch credit to Amir; it’s not just one or two people that can make plays on this team.”
In a season where they’ve seen defections and their lead guy, head coach Steve Lavin, missing from the sidelines while he recuperates from his battle with prostate cancer, the Red Storm’s ‘Fresh Five’ – a starting lineup of all five freshmen – are showing signs of execution meeting their vast talent. The fivesome (Harrison, guard Phil Greene, Garrett, Sir’Dominic Porter and Harkless) are now 5-4 as a starting unit. Back on Jan. 28 on the road against Duke, in their second game together as a starting unit, they battled back from a 22-point second half deficit and got to within four with less than a minute to play.
“You have to be impressed with their talent,” Notre Dame senior guard Scott Martin said. “They are competing hard at an early age and it’s going to be fun to watch them develop over the next few years.”
Possible leading Big East Coach of the Year candidate Mike Brey, whose team’s nine-game Big East winning streak was snapped by the Red Storm, echoed his player’s sentiments.
“St.Johnn’s has an interesting dynamics,” Brey said. “They are playing six guys and all over 30 minutes a game. They are going to get better and with nice pieces coming in for next season, they will be a conference contender.”
The talent is lead by the headliners Harkless (15.9) and Harrison (17.0), who’s fast approaching the program’s freshman scoring record held by Erick Barkley, who scored 500 in 1998-99.Harrison is only six away from tying the record.
But if you watched the Red Storm battle the Irish on ESPN2 or in attendance at MSG, this win wasn’t just about the aforementioned two promising stars, it was about Garrett getting comfortable alongside the twosome. He finished with 11 points, five rebounds, two steals and the block of the game. A little over a minute-and-half before his game-decisive runner, Garrett made a block that recalled Syracuse’s Hakeem Warrick’s game-saving block in the 2003 NCAA title game against Kansas. Irish’s Alex Dragicevich was stationed in the corner, ready to unleash a 3-point attempt that could’ve tied the game. When Dragicevich hurled his shot, he didn’t notice Garrett. The athletic forward got in position to block a shot that trickled out of bounds.
“I just saw him ready to shoot and he’s a good shooter,” Garrett said. “I was trying to get to the ball without fouling and I was able to do that. I was able to keep my hands high and keep balance.”
Execution and confidence resonated within Garrett on this Saturday that has been established within Harkless and Harrison well before the Fresh Five became a starting unit. If the Red Storm continue this blossoming in this tamest of winters; there is a strong chance come next winter, a perfect Storm will be brewing within Madison Square Garden for visitors from the Big East.
And to think, it won’t be just Jeremy Lin that will have the MSG patrons’ attention.