To no one’s surprise Saint John’s beat Niagara at Alumni Hall Tuesday night 70-57. Unless Norm Roberts is coaching – or Louie – that’s what usually happens: SJU has beaten NU 71 out of 99 times going back to the Woodrow Wilson administration. Coming off a close loss to a highly ranked opponent and with a showdown with an instate rival looming a different coach might have used the in-between cupcake game to work out some wrinkles in the zone offense or full court press. Not Steve Lavin though: he’s too smrat ® for that. What Steve Lavin did instead was break out a new rotation, benching his most talented player and starting a walk-on. Except as a reminder of what a numbskull Lavin is it didn’t matter much – Niagara is small and young and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn in the first half, during which SJ built a 10 point lead. As is their wont SJ then coasted on defense and chucked up a bunch of threes on offense and let Niagara back in it, to the extent that they pulled within one halfway through the second. Of course the outcome was never in doubt and when Lavin put his starters back in – well, not his starters, but his best 5 players – they put Niagara away, although not by enough to reward the suckers who laid 19. (Meanwhile out on the west coast Seton Hall’s freshmen were putting a 30 point beat down on Mount Saint Mary, much as their hungry coach Kevin Willard has put a beat down on Lavin on the recruiting trail. Saint John’s opens the BE season versus SH at the end of the month and speaking of beatdowns I don’t see much good coming out of that) …. SJU shot 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from three, although much of the credit for that goes to newly minted starter slash walk-on Miles Stewart. They failed to outrebound Niagara – Steve Lavin says rebounds are overrated so that’s not a problem – but the reversion to 60 percent free throw percentage might be, unless Lavin determines that FT shooting is not important either, in which case never mind … Other than his incongruous rotation (obviously a big other than) Lavin didn’t do anything particularly boneheaded, but that’s probably only because he didn’t do much of anything. In fact, if he hadn’t made an ostentatious display of subbing out offense for defense up by 12 points with 2 minutes left – and no doubt the rubes were all impressed – you might not have known he was there at all. We can only hope. On the bright side, having grown tired of being relentlessly mocked for dressing in layers like an insane homeless person, Lavin wore a shirt with a collar. Credit Morty Seinfeld.
PLAYERS: Harrison scored the 1700th point of his illustrious career with three minutes left to go in the first half and finished with 16 points and 9 rebounds. He should pass the great Glen Williams on Saturday in Saint John’s loss to New York’s team … Regular readers will recall that I wondered earlier in the year what Lavin was planning to do to mess with his current bugbear Rysheed Jordan. Now we know: he’s going to bring him off the bench behind a walk-on, an event foreshadowed a game or two ago when Jordan came off the bench in the second half behind Felix Balamou. If I had an angel on my shoulder it might be whispering that this is a motivational tool designed to improve Jordan’s game and life prospects; but all I have is a devil, and he says Lavin is just messing with the kid’s head, probably for spite following their personal issues last year and possibly even to convince him to stay in school next year, when the cupboard will be bare. Lavin’s toadies will scoff, just like they did this week after Jim Boeheim made comments they claimed were designed to convince Chris McCullogh that he was not ready to play professional basketball … Jamal Branch finally got the start his fans have been clamoring for and played well enough. No one’s killed him more than me, and I’m happy to admit this morning that he demonstrated last night that he could easily be an honorable mention third team player in the MAAC if he were able to sustain last night’s level of play over a full year and refrain from throwing lob passes into the bleachers and committing fouls 75 feet from the basket as he did again last night … Pointer was the other starter to come off the bench, which is what he should have been doing for three years … Miles Stewart – who Lavin compared in pregame interviews to NBA Hall of Famer Reggie Theus – played creditably enough, hitting half his threes, but brought little to the table other than that. When not babbling about Jordan the devil suggested that Lavin is lavishing attention on Stewart because Stewart constitutes the fruits of entire wasted recruiting year and Lavin wants everyone to think he recruited like that on purpose… Chris Obekpa seems to have lost a bit of the fire he showed when pushing around Division 2 teams earlier in the season. Seven points, 5 rebound and three blocks isn’t going to get him into the NBA, although between his hairdo and his shorts – astute viewers will have noted that the pair he wore yesterday were hemmed rather than rolled up – maybe he has his sights set on the WNBA. When he wasn’t grinning inappropriately he elbowed one guy in the face, punched another guy in the groin, and missed a dunk …. Coming off the best game of his career Phil Greene was suddenly replaced in Lavin’s affection by a walk on. I felt sorry for him until late in the second half when he attempted to take his man off the dribble by doing a spin move in the lane and fell over when his legs got tangled up, then I just started laughing … Jessica Albagovic got the biggest cheer of the night when he hit his first three of the year. He is on SJ fan boards this morning drawing comparisons to our last great shooters, Sergio Lyuk, Fred Lyson, and Heath Orvis … Speaking of knowledgeable fans, Christian Jones provided a welcome replacement for selfish cancer Jakarr Sampson for 3 minutes and the rest of the time sat on the bench.
NOTES: I haven’t checked Fox Sports One this morning: has Tarik Turner shut up yet? … Old time fans will recall that in 84-85 final four season Niagara was the only team that SJU lost to other than Georgetown. That game did not really count though as starting point guard Mike Moses did not play and the then #4 then Redmen were forced to start unreliable freshman PG Mark Jackson, whose 3 TOs in the last 2 minutes sealed the loss. “You’ve got to give Niagara all the credit,” Lou Carnesecca was quoted as saying in the NY Times. “ They played a marvelous game.” …. I did a bit of googling in search of something to say about Niagara University to pad this out a bit but there’s really nothing. Other than NBA great Calvin Murphy and Joe McCarthy – not the patriotic American senator who exposed the communist infiltration of the Roosevelt administration, the other one – there doesn’t seem to be an illustrious graduate in the bunch. Niagara Falls of course looms large in the American psyche as a cultural artifact, what with people consummating their marriages there and lunatics going over the falls in barrels and who can forget Joseph Cotton strangling the shit out of Marilyn Monroe and her pink sweater in the tunnels beneath the falls in eponymous 1953 film noire. The Falls also figure prominently in a vaudeville sketch performed by inter alia Lucille Ball, Abbot and Costello, and the Three Stooges in which its invocation (Niagara Falls … slowly I turned … step by step … inch by inch) turns a storyteller into a homicidal maniac. This does not sound particularly funny in theory, but is hilarious in practice. The sketch also formed the basis of the tune Native Love, the nadir of the career of Harris Milstead, aka Divine, which was otherwise marked by illustrious triumphs like Lust in the Dust and Pink Flamingos. If Milstead had been from Buffalo that would have tied this all up nicely but he was from Baltimore.