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Game #6: Niagara Purple Eagles at St. John's

St. John’s has the joy of playing perennial in-state Vincentian opponent Niagara, a MAAC team located in the Buffalo area, this Saturday December 15th at Carnesecca Arena.

The 98th meeting of the two programs is also the last cupcake opponent before the team heads off to the warmth of Hawaii to play in the Rainbow Classic, a tournament that still hasn’t been picked up by the sports media outlets, but that will include East Tennessee State, Georgia, Hawai'i, Louisiana-Lafayette, Ohio, Saint Mary's, St. John's and Tulane.

But that would be looking ahead, and the Red Storm cannot afford to look ahead to anyone.

Niagara went to the NCAA tournament last year… as the play-in team. They won that game and lost to Coach Roberts’ old employer, Bill Self, and his Kansas Jayhawks in the next round without much fight. This year, the team is led by senior Charron Fisher, a big guard with a great name who takes 37% of the team’s shots. He strokes well from the outside (37%) but not as well as guard Stanley Hodge, who has been knocking in threes at a 43% clip. Hodge is also the more efficient player, though he takes many fewer shots.

The team plays 4 guards and a forward, Benson Egemonye, who is 6’10" and 230 lbs, enough to contend with St. Johns’ centers if they don’t play for good position. Niagara hasn’t shown themselves to be effective defenders, but their outside shooting has kept them highly competitive. They play fast, and Charron Fisher rebounds very well for a 6’4" player. He is 230 pounds of baller, though.

The other starters are sophomore Tyrone Lewis who gets steals but seems to be mediocre from the free-throw and three-point lines, and Anthony Nelson, who is an underwhelming freshman scorer but makes passes and gets to the line. He also turns the ball over, and he can expect to see pressure. Egemoye’s contribution seems to be on the offensive glass. The four guards play upwards of 80% of the available minutes each, so the Red Storm will be well-acquainted with them at the end of the game.

Keys to the Game:

- Defend the Perimeter. I’m not sure who gets the pleasure of defending Charron Fisher, but seeing his woeful assist rates, the key may not be stopping him, it may be slowing him down and making him make mistakes. Bothering his shot. Charring his eagle feathers a little. I’m betting on DJ Kennedy opening the game on him, fighting him for rebounds. Kennedy has the toughness to slow him down. With the slight height advantage, Kennedy should be able to make him work.

If and when Fisher gets the ball in the hands of his teammates, the Red Storm guards have to be out on them. They may drive inside; the interior players have to anticipate their trajectory and get in the way. And not foul. If Lawrence, Horne, Wright, and Boothe can keep them from penetrating, all the better. But the key is to drive them inside and use the Red Storm’s height advantage; the Purple Eagles shoot 40% overall.

- Bust it Inside, or, Make the Pass. The height advantage should help Justin Burrell and even centers Jasiulionis and Coker. This team has been playing small, and they likely double down on opposing bigs, trying to mess up rhythm and steal the ball. The bigs have done a solid job holding on to the rock, but they, like St. John’s as a whole, need to take advantage of the doubling and move the ball around. Make the pass. Get the easy shot. Get the defense out of position. Get to the free throw line. Start in, and move the ball out.

- We’re Still Fly. Confidence will be key for the squad. They’re back home in the friendly confines, they’re rested after two weeks of exams (as rested as one can be after studying), and this is what they came to school to do—play ball. They have to play hard and wipe the stank of that game in Miami out of their mouths. Larry Wright has to feel his rhythm, and Geno has to lead this squad steadily. Burrell’s performance was mediocre but indicative of his youth; the talent still shone through, though he could do without those turnaround jump shots. He needs to keep the glass clean and make sure Niagara’s offensive possessions are one-and-done.

For more on the Purple (from frostbite?) Eagles:
Niagara Season Stats