St. John’s gave the home fans a steady diet of hope tonight, winning 99-49 in an exhibition over the Baruch Bearcats.
The Red Storm struggled to score early on, sticking around due to their defensive efforts. Four minutes in, the offense arrived and it was all thanks to Bashir Ahmed. Ahmed finished with 19 points (7-for-11 shooting), sparking St. John’s offense whenever it looked stale.
“I felt good,” Ahmed said after the game. “It felt amazing to be out there in my first game. I got a chance to play in front of my family and it felt great to be out there.”
Ahmed got to the rim at will and was the recipient of perhaps the highlight of the night for the Storm. A stop at one end resulted in Richard Freudenberg whipping a cross-court pass to a cutting Ahmed for two.
Despite four turnovers and 0-for-6 shooting to start the game, St. John’s bench and defense helped kick start the offense. The Storm caused 21 turnovers, taking advantage of poor transition defense by Baruch and confidently shooting from the perimeter.
“When we came out, we just wanted to set a statement,” Ahmed added. “We had a slow start, [but] when we got a hang of it, I felt like everything just started rolling for us. We started moving the ball around and stuff started coming easy.”
The Storm’s ability to stretch the floor with their bench proved to be huge, as Richard Freudenberg provided 12 key points. Amar Alibegovic checked in, got a block on one end and hit a three the following possession. It was the story of the night: defense turning into offense. Federico Mussini finished with a game-high 21 points (8-for-12 shooting) of his own, helping lead the offensive charge brought on by the bench.
“I told our guys, sometimes coaches just say that — that we’re going to be okay offensively, so let’s focus on defense — but I truly believe that’s the case with this team,” said Coach Mullin. “They’re gifted offensively. They can score the ball but they’re unselfish, and that’s good. It’s going to be really important that we lock in to take advantage of that.”
With three players now capable of running the offense, Mullin will have a lot of different lineups to work with. Although we saw a brief stretch in which all three were on the floor together, Mullin’s substitution patterns will likely depend on what’s needed.
Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds made the most of their time by making Baruch’s guards uncomfortable and causing turnovers with their energy. Ponds played the passing lanes exceptionally well after made baskets and did most of his scoring off the ball or off turnovers. The two guards combined for eight steals, most of them a result of St. John’s full-court press. LoVett finished with 14, Ponds with 12.
“It’s great. I like to play with them,” said Mussini of the two newcomers. “They’re smart players, great shooters, great ball-handlers and they can really pass the ball. We just played hard. I really liked how we looked out there. The most important thing is the chemistry that we had. Everybody is unselfish and willing to make a play for the other guy.”
With Mussini coming off the bench, however, with the likes of Freudenberg and Alibegovic, the Storm rolled out an aggressive offense that was neither shy of shooting the three or attacking the rim in transition.
“We were OK, I thought. We can be better; that’s why we play these games. But overall, it was a good effort,” added Mullin. “Offensively, we were good. Defensively, for the most part, we were active. It’s something good to delve on.”
Next for St. John’s? A scrimmage against Rhode Island, a top 25 squad; the scrimmage will be closed to the public.