It was the tale of two halves.
St. John's (2-1) struggled with the Patriot League's Bucknell Bison on Friday, as many expected they would. But the Johnnies charged back behind Phil Greene IV. The Red Storm finally pulled away in the later stages of a hard-fought 67-63 victory in front of just under 4,000 at Carnesecca Arena.
Greene led the way for the Johnnies with 16 points, 12 of which came during St. John's key run during the second half. Steve Lavin's squad, who has experienced well-documented struggles shooting from the perimeter thus far this season, finally overtook Bucknell's long-enduring lead when Greene sank two from beyond the arc midway through the second frame.
"We needed it a lot. We got some defensive stops, which made it much easier for us offensively," Greene mentioned. "I was playing aggressively. [Bucknell] was giving us a lot of shots, so we had to make them."
JaKarr Sampson (11 points) and D`Angelo Harrison (12 points on 3-13 shooting) were the only other St. John's players to score in double figures against the pesky Bison. Cameron Ayers scored a game-high 25 points for Bucknell, as Brian Fitzpatrick added 12.
Bucknell got out to a quick start, getting to the basket very easy through the Red Storm's defense. Senior Cameron Ayers scored 7 early points for the Bison.
Though it took St. John's a few minutes to get into the flow of the game, they looked cohesive once they did. A Rysheed Jordan three-pointer, the first of his young career, got the Johnnies going after a slow start found them down 11-4.
In fact, Jordan scored 7 points of his own before halftime, including a conversion from behind the arc and a few impressive feeds into the perimeter. After going scoreless in his first home game on Friday, Jordan finally showed what kind of player he is expected to become with the Red Storm.
As the Johnnies became more confident on the offensive end, they settled for a lot of jump shots from the perimeter. Bucknell, coached by Dave Paulsen, seemed prepared to defend the paint densely with a "soft" zone, making the poor-shooting St. John's beat them from the outside.
Ayers poured in 16 points before halftime, when Bucknell took a 35-32 advantage into the locker room. JaKarr Sampson's 8 first half points kept St. John's in the game late in the first half.
The second half began much in the same way the first did, with Bucknell jumping out to a quick 6-0 run to extend their lead to 9 points.
Carnesecca Arena finally got loud at the 12:44 mark when Phil Greene IV hit a three from the left corner to pull St. John's within just two.
In fact, it was Greene who gave the Red Storm a charge in the second half. His 10 points in the first eight minutes after halftime catapulted the Red Storm into its first lead at 46-45 after trailing for the majority of the night.
D`Angelo Harrison, who had been been cold from the floor since making the game's first shot in the opening minutes, drilled a three to give St. John's its largest lead up until that point (55-51).
Bucknell made everything look easy for the first 36 minutes on Friday, but the difference in athleticism between the the Bison and the Red Storm was evident in the final quarter of this game.
"It was a difficult loss for us. We just couldn't hold down St. John's during the second half," Paulsen said. "We can't really replicate that kind of shot-blocking ability [in practice]."
About midway through the second half, St. John's switched into its familiar match-up "quicksand" zone defense. Bucknell was no longer able to find cutters to the basket with ease, and were forced to settle for low percentage shots from the perimeter.
"Coach Lavin made a smart move switching us to the zone," Sir`Dominic Pointer said. "Our defense is ultimately going to win us more games than our offense will."
"For us, the zone defense was the difference," Lavin said. "It got Bucknell out of their rhythm. It keeps our bigs at home, kind of like a goalie in hockey."
Though Bucknell made it interesting by cutting the Red Storm's lead, which got as large as 8 points in the second half, to 61-57, St. John's solidified the victory with a loud Chris Obekpa block and free throws from Harrison and Sampson.
Obekpa finished the game with 7 blocks, his most since March 9th last year in an overtime loss to Marquette. As a team, the Red Storm finished with 13 blocked shots.
St. John's shot a respectable 45% from the field for the game, yet still just 27% from deep. Bucknell shot 46% from the floor.
"This was a big win for us," Pointer continued. "It's always better to be 2-1 than 1-2. We don't want to be playing catch-up later on in the season."
The Red Storm will be back in action this Friday when they welcome Monmouth to Carnesecca Arena for a 9 PM tip.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- St. John's vs Bucknell pregame: news, notes, three stat keys for the game
- Dancing on the pitch: men's, women's teams looking for NCAA Tournament success
- St. John's vs Bucknell game preview: Johnnies face possible "Sweet Sixteen" team
- St. John's vs Bucknell pregame: five questions on the Bison with CBT's Kevin Doyle
- Episode 8: a busy upcoming week for St. John's and Rutgers