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Phil Greene IV, zone defense spark St. John's comeback win against Bucknell

The Chicago native found his stroke when the Red Storm needed it the most.

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

St. John’s can point to a couple of different reasons why they were able to overcome an efficient and pesky Bucknell squad in the second half of Tuesday night’s win.

One reason was a solid team effort as the Red Storm switched to a zone defense with about 10 minutes left in the game. The second reason, however, could go a long way to determining how St. John’s fares the remainder of the season as Phil Greene IV scored 16 points in the 67-63 victory.

Greene is a wild card (in a good way) for the Red Storm this season. The Chicago native has the ability to be one of the better and more aggressive perimeter shooters for St. John’s and he showed that in the second half when he scored 12 points mostly from 15 feet and out.

He hit two straight 3-pointers to give St. John’s a 46-45 lead with 12:05 left in the game. The teams traded baskets for the next couple of minutes, but Greene had set the tone for the rest of the game. Bucknell was just begging St. John’s to shoot from the perimeter and Greene rose to the occasion.

"I was saying, ‘I got to hit one,’ " Greene said. "I was playing aggressive. I didn’t want to shy away. They were giving us the shots, so we had to make them."

Greene came into the game a career 36.8% shooter from the field. And though it’s a very small sample so far this season, he’s shooting 52.6% through three games.

If Greene can stay in that 45%-to-50% range for the season, it could help give St. John’s a respectable inside-out game. Of course, the Johnnies need to get the ball more into their bigs to make that happen.

The bigs, however, played larger than life when St. John’s went to the zone.

"The zone defense was the difference. It took them out of their rhythm and set up the blocks because it kept our bigs at home," St. John's coach Steve Lavin said.

St. John’s went to the zone with about 10 minutes left in the half and down 51-48. Suddenly, Bucknell couldn’t backdoor its way to the bucket and hit the 3 the way they had in the first half.

The Bisons shot 31.2% (5-of-16) from the field in the last 10 minutes.

"We struggled to score when they stepped the pressure up," Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen said. "We missed 30 shots (in the game) and they had 13 blocks, so for all intents and purposes half our misses were blocked shots."

Lavin was on point when he said afterwards that Tuesday’s game was one St. John’s would’ve lost two years ago, even last year. The Red Storm has nine more games before the conference open against Xavier on New Year’s Eve in Cincinnati.  That’s plenty of time to form a cohesive unit for when it matters the most.

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