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Despite two tough losses, young St. John’s ‘getting there’

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NEW YORK- Friday night’s heartbreaking loss to Texas A&M showed, in just forty minutes of gametime, the range of emotions that the St. John’s Red Storm will endure this season.

After lacking energy in the first half and falling behind by 11 in the first half, the Red Storm surged back to take the lead in the second half, up 57-56 with 22 seconds remaining.

Texas A&M guard Elston Turner knocked down a jumper from the top of the with ten seconds remaining and St. John’s Nurideen Lindsey could not convert on either of two free throws with seconds remaining, allowing the Aggies to escape, 58-57.

“What I shared with the team after was similar to last night, in terms of the talking points,” said St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin after the game. “There were stretches we played really well, but by we put ourselves in a hole…and down the stretch, we weren’t able to put a team away because of things within our control.”

The up-and-down emotions of the past few months are becoming a difficult reality of competing at the high-major level, something that this program has not experienced since the early 2000s.

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Around this time last season, Lavin was helping to bring nothing but good news to a reemerging St. John’s program.

Off the court, news broke almost weekly of another top 100 recruit pledging to the Red Storm. On the court, Lavin was leading a group of nine seniors, a collection that had underachieved up to that point in their careers, to the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance in nearly a decade.

As summer came, the difficult news began.

Four players have decommitted in as many months, including two of the three players from the Class of 2011 who were ruled ineligible by the NCAA earlier this season.

Former point guard commit Jevon Thomas signed with Dayton. Forwards Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Sampson remain open in their recruitment. Big man Ricardo Gathers still has St. John’s at the top of his list, he says, but will sign in the Spring.

Kyle Anderson, a prized 2012 prospect from powerhouse St. Anthony (Nj.), turned down the Red Storm and signed with UCLA.

The roster that remains in Queens, though lacking depth and size, is a reason for a reasonable amount of optimism, with three top 100 recruits and two more highly-touted junior college transfers.

But if these past two games at Madison Square Garden have proven anything, an elusive truth of a climb toward national prominence has emerged:

Reasonable expectations will take you far.

A critical fan base has been quick to discount the progress under Steve Lavin, while others have talked of a deep run in the NCAA tournament with this inexperienced group of first year players.

The reality is that this team has and will progress through a natural flow of triumphs and defeats. They will lose games that they should have won. Perhaps they will steal a win on the road in an unfriendly environment.

And it seems that is the attitude they preach.

“We’re getting there. We know how talented we are. As a defensive team, we have to get stops, get rebounds, and we’ll be fine,” said freshman guard Phil Greene, who has 10 points and three rebounds in the loss.

The most remarkable thing about this team is their sense of togetherness. They seem to find safety in numbers, seeing themselves as one unit, instead of six different players.

Freshman guard D’Angelo Harrison, who had 12 points against A&M, was quick to come to the defense of his teammate.

“You can’t just blame Nuri. Everybody missed free throws. I feel like I lost the game,” said Harrison. “I’m pretty sure [junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa] feels the same way, and [freshman forward Moe Harkless] missed two free throws.”

Then, in a unique show of humor after such a loss, he looked at Greene, who sat at the opposite end of the media table.

“Phil was 100% [from the line], so he’s good.”

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

No. 13 Iowa State suspends Jameel McKay indefinitely

Iowa State forward Georges Niang, forward Jameel McKay, forward Abdel Nader and guard Deonte Burton celebrate after center Stuart Nezlek scored late in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Coppin State, Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2015, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 104-84 (AP Photo/Justin Hayworth)
AP Photo/Justin Hayworth
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Already lacking depth, No. 13 Iowa State will be short a key contributor Saturday when they take on Oklahoma State in Stillwater.

Friday night it was announced that senior forward Jameel McKay has been suspended indefinitely by head coach Steve Prohm and did not make the trip with the team. McKay, who’s been dealing with knee issues recently, is averaging 12.4 points and a team-high 9.0 rebounds per game on the season.

Over the last six games he’s averaging 7.7 points and 8.7 rebounds per contest, shooting 60.6 percent from the field.

McKay has been asked to man the middle for a team lacking in both size and depth, with Georges Niang shifting over to the five when McKay needs a break for either rest or foul trouble reasons. Without McKay even more responsibility falls upon the shoulders of Niang, Abdel Nader and Deonte Burton in the front court.

The Cyclones are looking to end a two-game losing streak, and even with Oklahoma State’s struggles accomplishing that gets tougher with McKay out of the lineup.

News of McKay’s suspension was first reported by the Ames Tribune.

UNLV dismisses guard Daquan Cook from team

Illinois v UNLV
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LAS VEGAS (AP) UNLV junior guard Daquan Cook has been dismissed from the team.

Interim coach Todd Simon made the announcement on Friday, though no reason was given.

Cook was suspended for 13 games by previous coach Dave Rice in November after being arrested and charged with DUI.

Cook appeared in two games this season after being reinstated, scoring three points in four minutes. He missed the 2014-15 season after tearing his right ACL and played 28 games as a sophomore.