St. John's was focused and poised, determined to not let Samford make a name for itself in the NCAA tournament.
Ron Artest scored 17 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the Red Storm, seeded third in the South Regional, won 69-43 Thursday night to advance to the second round for the first time in six years.
"Any time you win a game in this tournament you have a lot to be thankful for," said coach Mike Jarvis, who's in his first season at St. John's.
"I thought our guys did a very, very, very good job against a difficult and trying team to play against. We knew it would not be an easy game to play, even though by the score it may have looked easy."
Samford bills itself as "Southern-Fried Princeton" because it uses the same deliberate style of offense as the Ivy League school. But the 14th-seeded Bulldogs didn't come close to duplicating the recent success of the original.
St. John's (26-8) scored the game's first 13 points and the closest Samford would get after that was nine late in the first half. Lavor Postell went 10-for-12 from the foul line and finished with 14 points for the Red Storm.
Samford, playing in the tournament for the first time, finished with a 24-6 record. Reed Rawlings led the Bulldogs with 14 points and nine rebounds.
"It's not a good idea to let the opponent to score the first 13 points," said Samford coach Jimmy Tillette. "We were nervous in the beginning and we got worn down at the end."
With Valparaiso eliminated by Maryland earlier in the day at Orlando Arena, Samford was hoping to emerge as this year's darlings of the tournament.
But the Bulldogs missed their first eight shots and turned the ball over four times to go scoreless the first 8:27 of the game. St. John's led 13-0 by the time Marc Salyers broke the drought with a 3-pointer.
Th pressure of appearing in the tournament was never more evident than when Samford's Boyd Kaiser went to the foul line two minutes into the game and launched an airball. His second attempt also failed to hit the rim, although it was wiped out by a lane violation.
"We were very nervous. We were out of synch," said Samford's Mario Lopez. "We got some good shots. They just didn't fall."
The Bulldogs settled down to pull within nine, going 6-for-19 on 3-point attempts before their only two-point basket of the opening half on Rawlings' rebound follow at the buzzer cut St. John's lead to 33-22.
The strong close gave hope to Samford fans, who stood for the entire game, but St. John's held its poise in the second half and maintained a double-digit lead the rest of the way.
"We allowed them to get ahead by 13, and it's very hard to came back from that," Samford's Will Daniel said.
The victory was the first in the tournament for St. John's since 1993 when the Red Storm beat Texas Tech in the first round. It also gave the Big East school its winningest season since 1985-86 when it went 31-5.
"As you go on," Artest said, "the games are going to get harder."
Bootsy Thornton scored 13 points and Erick Barkley had 11 for St. John's. Salyers and Daniel each scored 11 for Samford, which missed 26 of 33 3-point field goal attempts and shot just 25 percent from the field overall.
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