A late surge by Murray State on both offense and defense resulted in a come-from-behind win for Murray State over the St. John's Red Storm (2-1), leaving the Johnnies with their first loss of the season - and a slot in the consolation game of the Charleston Classic.
Their opponent? The favorite in the Classic field, the #16 ranked Baylor Bears (3-1), picked for second in the Big 12's preseason poll and hoping to maintain their ranked status with a win over St. John's.
With a day to prepare, the St. John's hope to end their time in South Carolina on a high note and the season's first win over a ranked opponent. But the Baylor Bears bring in a dynamic scoring point guard, Final Four and NBA level talent, and a familiar face on their bench.
After close losses, will both teams play with the same motivation? D`Angelo Harrison will look to score, but will the rest of the team bring that intensity? Will their defense be able to disrupt the Bears, who also love to run the floor? Expect athleticism as St. John's faces Baylor, for third place in the Charleston Classic.
Colorado barely edged Baylor for a berth to the Charleston Classic finals. Colorado turned the ball over against the Bears and missed 14 of 18 shots from the line. Meanwhile, Baylor couldn't shoot (3/16 from beyond the arc - 1/5 from marksman Brady Heslip, who shot 45% from three last year), with the exception of 6'9" forward Cory Jefferson, who got buckets at the rim. Suffice to say Baylor knows they let a win get away.
Despite their shooting struggles, the Bears from Waco, Texas are stocked with talent. Isaiah Austin (yes, another Isaiah) is a versatile seven-footer who may be more comfortable shooting from the outside and driving than he is in the post. Pierre Jackson is one of the nation's best point guards, blessed with speed and the ability to generate points off of the dribble despite being under 6-feet tall.
A.J. Walton is second in career steals at Baylor, and a solid ball handler who starts in the backcourt with shooter Brady Heslip and speedy Pierre Jackson. The 5'10" Jackson was picked as the Big 12 preseason Player of the Year by the league's coaches and most major publications.
The Baylor bench has a talented point guard (L.J. Rose, a talented shooter (Gary Franklin), an ultra-athletic wing (Deuce Bello), a solid forward (Taurean Prince) and a name and face St. John's recruiting fans will remember in Rico Gathers.
Gathers decommitted from St. John's last year, around early signing week, and Steve Lavin's efforts couldn't reel him back in. The team, of course, recruited size in Chris Obekpa, Christian Jones, Orlando Sanchez, and JaKarr Sampson in lieu of Gathers, who has looked like a force on the glass in the early games of the Baylor season.
There will be a whole lot of Texas in this game. Isaiah Austin attended Grace Prep in Arlington, Texas, where Jamal Branch played his last two years of high school ball. D`Angelo Harrison is from Missouri City, outside of Houston.
Cory Jefferson is from Killeen (between Waco and Austin); L.J. Rose is from Houston; Taurean Prince is from San Antonio.
And while Max Hooper isn't eligible to play, he and Gary Franklin both went to Mater Dei High in California.
St. John's vs Baylor: Cast of characters/ Keys to the Game
Pierre Jackson spent last year - his first out of the College of Southern Idaho - scoring the ball from everywhere (50% inside the arc/ 41% outside the arc/ 82% from the line) while using 26% of the team's possessions while on the floor - in numerical averages, just under 14 points per game and 6 assists. In transition, he gets the Bears moving.
Jackson's work off of high pick and rolls also start the Baylor offense in the half court, and his game breaking speed powers the Bears in transition. With sharpshooter Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin spotting up, Jackson's speed becomes even more dangerous as it draws defenders in.
Phil Greene's ability to get shots off the dribble could play a huge role in today's game. Greene scored 20 against a Detroit defense that sagged into the pain, but was stifled by an aggressive Murray State defense that pushed the offensive sets farther from the basket.
Assuming Harrison gets his buckets, St. John's might need an unheralded hero tomorrow to generate points when getting the rim seems to be a hard-to-reach goal.
Both teams hope to own the area around the rim with their length, defensive athleticism, and rebounding. The 7'1" Austin hasn't yet been the shot blocking factor (2 on the season), but on offense he has helped to pace the Auburn with his jumper and at the rim. He is very willing to shoot from deep, and with his height, has no trouble getting his shot off.
Austin also crashes the boards. And what he can't finish, Cory Jefferson and Rico Gathers can clean up when not boxed out.
Points from fresh strangers
The two benches have very talented newcomers. Can Baylor's bench of L.J. Rose at point, Rico Gathers at forward, and Deuce Bello at the wing outdo the St. John's bench of Chris Obekpa, Sir`Dominic Pointer, Felix Balamou, and Marc-Antoine Bourgault? Which bench will fill in the slack for a tired teammate at the end of a long weekend of basketball?
St. John's could use the scoring punch, especially from outside. Felix Balamou scored 6 in his second game, while Marco Bourgault was tentative in his first - after arriving in Charleston an hour and a half before tip-off after being okayed to play by the NCAA.
Prediction: Baylor has a lot of athleticism. St. John's has a lot more inexperience, despite having comparable athleticism. Baylor's offensive rebounding power them to a 74-64 win.