December is the time for the young and new St. John's Red Storm to start coming together. And last weekend, Durand Johnson and Yankuba Sima led the way on Sunday to get the Johnnies back on the winning track with a 63-56 victory, and make some history.
Durand Johnson hit a key bucket late in the game that gave the Johnnies momentum to finish St. Francis Brooklyn. The Terriers were tough and stingy - like all of the area teams that have a long history playing St. John's - and gave St. John's everything they could.
"I give St. Francis a lot of credit. They are a tough team and they play hard. Glenn Braica is a great coach and a great guy," said Mullin. "We will learn from this and in the long run be better for it. If you want to be good, if you want to be successful you take all your experiences and you learn from them."
Next up is the Niagara Purple Eagles from the MAAC - a team just as eager as St. Francis for an upset of St. John's to add to the story of their season. Plus, this is dangerous game for the Johnnies as it could be easy to overlook Niagara before the Syracuse game. This is the 4th team that the Johnnies have played from New York this season out of 8 contests.
Who: St. John's Red Storm (5-3) vs Niagara Purple Eagles (3-6)
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, NY
When: Wednesday, December 9th, 5:00 PM
TV: Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports Go
Audio: 970 AM-WNYM or AM 1400 WWWS
Twitter: Follow @rumbleSBN and @StJohnsBBall for updates
Tickets: You can buy tickets for the game here
Tickets Note: All fans attending the game are asked to wear red for the doubleheader at Carnesecca Arena. All St. John's employee's and students can pick up FREE tickets for the game, and are invited to a pre-game reception with head coach Chris Mullin. More info about ticket pick-up and pre-game reception can be found here.
Last Meeting: St. John's edged Niagara 70-57 last season in Queens.
Fun Fact: Basketball legend Hubie Brown played basketball and baseball at Niagara University from 1952-1955. Brown's roommate at Niagara was Frank Layden former President and General Manager for the Utah Jazz.
An abundance of departures hurt the rebuilding Purple Eagles this offseason. Currently, college basketball statistics/ ratings sit KenPom rates Niagara at number 314 - meaning that the Purple Eagles are one of the 40 worst Division-I teams in America. Niagara lost major scoring and three of its top four rebounders from last season. Some of the most prominent departures include Ramone Snowden, Dominque Reid and Wesley Myers.
Ramone Snowden transfered to James Madison University. Last season he was Niagara's second-highest scorer and the leading rebounder. While competing in all 33 games he averaged approximately 8 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist.
Wesley Myers transfered to the University of Maine. Myers was a crucial piece on the Purple Eagles offense. He averaged about 10 points per game while shooting 42% from behind the arc and 70% from the free-throw line.
Dominque Reid left the program due to legal issues - fraud charges with a regional bank. MAAC all-rookie choice Dominque Reid was a tremendous rebounder and an athlete with stunning upside. Third-year head coach Chris Casey is not concerned about losing these players.
"I’m not concerned about it," Casey said. "Those guys didn’t want to be here. It’s what they chose to do."
One reason for coach Casey's lackadaisical attitude towards the egress of Snowden and Myers is because coach Casey knows he has players like junior Emile Blackmon and sophomore Matt Scott. The two main scorers on this season's team will look to carry the Purple Eagles to some sort of postseason. These two are strong basketball players. Blackmon averages about 15 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists per contest, shooting 42% from the field.
Matt Scott obrings even gaudier statistics to the table. Scott averages about 17 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists per game. He also holds a 47% shooting percentage from the field and contributes defensively with about 2 steals a game.
Keys to Game
Keeping Focus: This game can be easy for players to overlook, keeping focus on Niagara and not thinking about Syracuse up next is vital. It sounds like this should not be issue according to Durand Johnson.
"We come to practice every day and work hard," said Johnson, "and we had to get back on the winning track. We have Niagara coming into [Carnesecca Arena] this week and we have to move on and keep building."
Keeping the Niagara stars in check: Matt Scott and Emile Blackmon will try to run away with this game. If St. John's can slow those two down, the Niagara bench will not have enough to put away the Johnnies on the road. The Purple Eagles average about 16 points from their bench each game.
Get more scorers involved: Niagara is not the only team that struggles with scoring depth, St. John's has been plagued by a lack of diverse scoring options. The Johnnies only average 17 bench points per game. When bench points spiked early this season, the Johnnies were a deeper team with more ways to attack. For example, St. John's finished with 25 bench points against UMBC and arguably played their best game of the season. Getting someone like Felix Balamou in the scoring column more often can help this St. John's team take the next step.
Even though it seems that Niagara has the pieces to threaten an inexperienced and developing St. John's team, It seems hard to imagine a world where the Niagara Purple Eagles walk on to St. John's home court and beat them. Expect this game to start ugly but this is still St. John's and losing to Niagara seems ludicrous. But any team that turns the ball over too much or leaves wide-open three-point shooters can be the victim of an upset.
Still, the prediction is that the Johnnies buckle up in the second half to hang on for a victory.
Final Prediction: 74-64 Johnnies
What's your prediction?