NEW YORK (AP) — With his team not displaying the proper sense of urgency at halftime, St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin had multiple options to get his message across.
He could have broken a chalkboard, ripped his off his suit jacket or unleashed a series of expletives.
Instead Lavin opted for a conversation about the underwhelming opening half and it seemed to work as the Red Storm responded with a dominant second half in a 77-52 rout of Butler Tuesday night that extended their winning streak to six games.
“So it wasn’t as much a fire and brimstone, it was a conversation,” Lavin said. “We’ve used the fire and brimstone. There’s only so many times you can bring the Nolan Ryan, Dwight Gooden, Vida Blue fastballs. It starts to fall on deaf ears. You can only break so many chalkboards, dry erase boards, clipboards. That gets old and at some point the motivation has got to come from within.”
JaKarr Sampson scored 14 of his career-high 23 points in the second half when the Red Storm shot 60.7 percent and outscored Butler 47-19. The Red Storm also contained the Bulldogs defensively by holding them to 20 percent in the second half while employing a zone defense that also held Butler without a basket for over eight minutes in the second half.
“We worked too hard to let it slip to losing to Butler and that’s why we came out more aggressive and with more energy than we did in the first half,” Sampson said.
Jamal Branch added 10 points and Orlando Sanchez helped compensate for the loss of Chris Obepka (ankle) by pulling down a career-high 11 rebounds. Obepka is expected to be out 10 to 14 days after injuring his ankle in practice Monday, but the Red Storm controlled the glass by a 52-28 margin.
The Red Storm (18-9, 8-6) won for the ninth time in 10 games following an 0-5 start in Big East play and will next visit Villanova Saturday. But before they could prepare for their showdown, they had to overcome the sub-par first half that saw them trailing by three.
“I just think everyone played with a greater spirit,” Lavin said. “We challenged the group to step up and we seemed flat and we just didn’t have a sharp or crisp approach to anything we did. Every aspect of play in the first half they beat us to the punch and I thought in the second half that we completely flipped that.”
Khyle Marshall led Butler (12-14, 2-12) with 16 points but was a non-factor in the second half. Marshall made 6 of 9 shots in the first half on a combined five layups and dunks but missed all four of his attempts after halftime as the Bulldogs made just 31.7 percent, including 4 of 22 on 3-pointers.
“We knew we had to come out and shut him down,” Sampson said.
After shooting 36.7 percent in the first half, the Red Storm made four of their first six shots in the second half and took the lead for good after Sampson blocked a Marshall shot and Phil Greene IV converted a layup through traffic with about 16 ½ minutes remaining. Greene’s layup was part of an 11-2 run that gave St. John’s a 46-37 edge with just under 14 minutes remaining.
Butler was within 46-41 with about 13 minutes left on a rare four-point play by Alex Barlow, who was fouled from behind as D’Angelo Harrison tried to block his shot. But Sampson scored 10 points, during a 24-2 St. John’s run that extended the lead to 70-43 with about 3 ½ minutes remaining.
During the deciding run the Red Storm made 8 of 10 shots while Butler missed 15 straight shots and 16 of 17.
“St. John’s got out in transition, got some easy baskets,” Bulldogs head coach Brandon Miller said. “They turned us over a little bit. Their pressure picked up, we didn’t handle it very well and when the game got going up and down they got too many easy baskets and the game got away from us.”
Butler hosts Providence on Sunday.