The play that punctuated St. John’s comeback win

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The soaring one-handed dunk in itself was impressive and the St. John’s players reacted to it like a bunch of kids seeing a slam for the first time.

But its significance may be more than just a momentum-turning play in an early-season victory.

It could be the play that allows Kassoum Yakwe to regain his swagger.

His acrobatic put-back dunk with 4:14 left Thursday gave the Red Storm the lead for good in their come-from-behind 82-77 win over Oregon State in the opening round of the AdvoCare Invitational.

“I think that moment,” the 6-foot-7 Yakwe said, “changed everything.”

“That dunk was definitely the turning point of the game,” sophomore Shamorie Ponds said. “We rattled them with that dunk.”

It was the capper to arguably the junior’s best performance since his standout freshman season. In 15 important minutes, Yakwe had eight points, five rebounds and a blocked shot, solid numbers that hardly could describe his impact. It was his stellar defense against Oregon State big man Drew Eubanks, and his boxing out of the large Beavers forwards, helping St. John’s (5-0) outrebound its opponent 15-10 on the offensive glass.

Yakwe’s regression last year was a mystery. He was surrounded by far more talent, and yet his production dried up. A highly rated four-star recruit entering St. John’s, he started this season as an afterthought, scoreless in two of the team’s first four games and averaging 3.2 rebounds.

“I need to produce more,” he said.

A different player showed up on Thanksgiving, the kind of player the Red Storm’s undersized and thin front line desperately needs. Thursday might be the start of his awakening. St. John’s sure hopes so.

“I’ve been confident, but I wasn’t really playing the way I was supposed to play,” Yakwe said. “I kept staying positive.

“Now,” he added, “I got to keep playing the way I played today.”