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While most of the sports world spent Wednesday waiting for the departure of a collegiate coach, there was another coach plotting his return in Queens.
Steve Lavin, who has been away from his St. John's team for more than a month after undergoing surgery for prostate cancer before hitting practice on Tuesday, decided shortly before tipoff that he would be on the bench for the Red Storm's game against Lehigh.
His entrance to the arena had a touch of Willis Reed to it as the crowd responded with huge cheers to the unexpected sight of Lavin heading to the bench in his trademark suit and sneakers.
While Lavin's return jolted the crowd, it seemed to take the life out of his team. St. John's fell behind Lehigh less than three minutes into the game and were down as many as 16 in the first half as the young team struggled to hang with their Patriot League opponents.
The lead was 60-46 with 11 minutes to play when everything finally clicked for the home team and the Red Storm's raw talent took hold. They scored 12 straight points over the next five-and-a-half minutes, turning up the defensive pressure for the second straight game and scoring buckets off the transition created by that pressure.
They finally grabbed a lead with 2:20 to play off a Sir'Dominic Pointer steal and layup and then held onto it down the stretch despite some awful free throw shooting. The 78-73 win improved their record to 2-0 on the year and showed that this team's got a lot of fire in its belly, but it also showed that this has the potential to be an awfully long year once the conference schedule gets underway.
In each of their first two games, the Red Storm have been way behind and come back simply because their young players have more athletic ability than William & Mary or Lehigh. That isn't going to be the case against Villanova or Georgetown, to say nothing of Arizona, who they will meet at MSG next week in the semifinals of the very apropos Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.
That's not to say there aren't things to like. God's Gift Achiuwa had another strong game in the paint, you never turn your nose up at spirited defensive effort and it certainly can't hurt a young team to be tested, regardless of the opposition, while coming out smelling sweet on the other side of the tunnel.
But, generally, it is a good thing that Lavin is back on the sideline because this year's St. John's team is going to need a lot of help figuring out how to avoid digging these kinds of huge holes against teams that aren't going to let them climb back out. It won't be an easy battle, but neither is fighting cancer so Lavin is likely up to the task.