It took longer than expected for St. John's (3-1) to seal a win over the Monmouth Hawks on Friday. If it weren't for Phil Greene IV's 22 points and Chris Obekpa's nine blocked shots, it isn't so sure that they even would have sealed it.
The Johnnies ultimately defeated Monmouth, 64-54, in front of 4,185 at Carnesecca Arena. Like games have been for St. John's this season, things weren't easy and they certainly weren't pretty. The Red Storm's sloppiness on the offensive end, which included 12 turnovers for the night, kept the Hawks within reach essentially all game. St. John's was favored by 19.5 points entering the game.
Greene's play during the last two games was been a crucial ingredient in both of St. John's wins. His three-pointer with 57.2 seconds left on Friday capped a frustratingly close victory over the Hawks.
"Phil is capable of doing this every night. He's finally taking shots," Harrison said. "He can be very difficult to guard."
On Tuesday against Bucknell, Steve Lavin needed a second half adjustment to switch his team out of its struggling man-to-man defense. The move certainly wasn't temporary, as the Johnnies came out of the gate in its "quicksand" zone, stifling Monmouth's interior attack.
The Storm's poor perimeter shooting seemed a distant memory in the opening minutes, when Greene and Max Hooper each converted from deep to give St. John's an early advantage. In fact, the Johnnies converted four times from beyond the arc (on 14 tries) before halftime.
After taking an early 14-7 lead, seeming in total control, St. John's wasn't able to pull away and make the entire night stress-free. Monmouth went on a 10-2 run of their own to get back into the game. After Harrison committed his second foul midway through the half and had to sit, the Hawks contained St. John's, and trailed by only 2 points at intermission (28-26).
"The first half was a straight F," Lavin mentioned. "There wasn't one positive thing I took away from our first half performance."
Harrison got the Red Storm going with 5 points early in the second half, but Monmouth continued to claw and keep St. John's within arms length. Monmouth actually took a lead at 37-36 with just over 15 minutes remaining.
In fact, St. John's was making far too many avoidable mistakes in the early portion of the second half. Traveling violations, questionable passes and missed box out assignments had the Carnesecca fans shaking their heads as another nail-biting second half unfolded before them.
"[Monmouth] did a good job with their scouting report," Harrison said.
Sampson and Obekpa buckets in the lane extended the Red Storm's lead to 48-41 with 7:50 to play. Monmouth, who shot 34% overall and a miserable 11% from long range on the night, hadn't done much to help themselves when the Johnnies weren't able to pull away.
Even after extending their lead, St. John's never did pull away comfortably. Yet Monmouth's inability to capitalize on the Johnnies' errors was synonymous with the errors themselves all night long.
"I was not pleased with our effort on the defensive end of the floor. I thought we were a step slow the entire night," Lavin said. "The turnover total ended up being a high number for us."
Freshman point guard Rysheed Jordan was suspended for Friday's game for violating a team rule. There is no word whether his suspension will be extended any longer than just one game. Lavin chose to insert Chris Obekpa into the lineup in Jordan's place, making the lineup considerably bigger than it has been thus far this season.
"It definitely hurts because [Rysheed] is a great player," Harrison said. "He'll be back."
St. John's shot 46% from the field, including 8 conversions from deep. The Red Storm also blocked 15 shots on the night.
The Red Storm will be back in action on Tuesday night when they welcome Longwood to Carnesecca Arena.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- Rysheed Jordan suspended for Friday's game vs. Monmouth
- St. John's vs Monmouth: watch for sloppiness (three stat keys)
- St. John's vs Monmouth game preview: Look for "aisle-by-aisle" contributions from Sir' Dom Pointer
- Key second half adjustments vs. Bucknell a positive sign for Lavin, St. John's
- Time Machine: St. John's history vs. Monmouth