St. John’s may have been undersized, but with a hot start and a lot of battle on the glass, the Red Storm spent the second half cruising to a 84-65 victory tonight in New Jersey to end the Gavitt Games.
The Big Ten still win the Gavitt Games challenge (five wins to three for the Big East), but behind Mustapha Heron (27 points) and LJ Figueroa (23 points) the Big East ends with a resounding win
The worry coming into the game was that Rutgers’ size would be a defining factor, with Sedee Keita out with an injury. Rutgers came in shooting well over 40% from deep, and Loyola (MD) and Bowling Green had some success from the perimeter in in St. John’s first two games.
But with a flummoxing defensive energy, the Red Storm deflated the early season “Rutgers is different” balloon and showed that this team can compete with bigger teams if they bring good ball movement and energy.
After giving up an easy putback dunk to Shaquille Doorson, St. John’s kicked off the action with a trio of three pointers. Despite a technical foul (for flopping? Still don’t know what that was) on Mustapha Heron battling for position in the paint, the Red Storm increased their lead to eight. But Rutgers started crawling back as the ghosts of the RAC made both teams shoot the ball badly.
In that first half, Rutgers, after making a record number of threes in their first two games, shot 2/14 from outside the arc, 10/22 from inside the arc and 1/8 from the free throw line, with eight turnovers. St. John’s was good, confident shooting the ball, and quick to close out... but Rutgers certainly suffered from self-inflicted on court wounds.
For their part, the Red Storm lit up the RAC with 7/16 shooting from outside the arc, 7/16 from inside the arc with competent rebounding — six defensive rebounds each from Figueroa and Justin Simon. Marvin Clark sat for half of the first period, saddled with two fouls. But the rebounding continued.
The Knights came as close as one. Rutgers found matchups they liked — once, Geo Baker took Bryan Trimble Jr. from the top of the key, blew by him, and handed off to Ron Harper Jr. for a dunk that seemed like it could be the turning point for the home crowd. Then Peter Kiss nailed a three-pointer to bring the deficit to only one for the Knights.
Then the Red Storm forced six misses and two turnovers out of Rutgers over the final five minutes of the first half, while feasting on fast break opportunities on the other end, led by LJ Figueroa.
Shamorie Ponds did not figure heavily into the scoring, with eight points and six assists on the evening, but his ability to move the ball — once he realized that the Rutgers big men were well prepared to defend him when isolated against the quick guard — was key. Ponds should be credited with a number of “hockey assists” for creating the confusion that led to the pass that led to the pass that led to the shot.
In the second half, the Johnnies extended the lead to as much as 25. St. John’s came out hot growing their 11 point halftime lead in large part thanks to back to back Mustapha Heron three’s. Soon, the second half was just stat padding and playing out the minutes.
The Red Storm got Marcellus Earlington a chance to play in front of his home state crowd, where he banked in a long two-pointer.
St. John’s finished allowing 14 offensive rebounds to Rutgers, but limiting the damage; the Knights were held to 7/26 shooting from outside the arc and 15/37 inside the arc.
Though Rutgers certainly showed some potential on the floor, a good “knight” was had by St. John’s and St. John’s only.
LJ Figueroa: 23 Points (7/13 FG, 6/9 3PT), 11 Rebounds, 4 Assists
Mustapha Heron: 27 Points (10/14 FG, 4/5 3PT), 6 Rebounds, 2 Assists, 3 Turnovers
Marvin Clark II: 12 Points (3/8 FG, 3/8 3PT), 3 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 3 Turnovers
Justin Simon: 10 points (3/5 FG, 2/2 3PT), 9 Rebounds (2 offensive), 3 Assists, 1 Block, 1 Steal, 0 Turnovers
Issa Thiam: 13 Points (5/13 FG, 3/8 3PT), 3 Rebounds, 1 Assist, 2 Turnovers
Eugene Omoruyi: 12 Points (3/8 FG, 1/3 3PT), 7 Rebounds, 3 Assists, 2 Turnovers