The first of three NEC teams in a row come to Carnesecca Arena as the St. John’s Red Storm take three more cracks at working out the kinks (or hiding the awesome wrinkles they will whip out during Big East play? Hey, it could be true).
The Wagner Seahawks come across the city to face the Red Storm, in front of what should be a good crowd in Queens on a Sunday afternoon.
Can this group of Johnnies keep the strong offense going — and maybe workingin an improved defensive effort — to go 10-0?
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (9-0) vs Wagner Seahawks (4-3)
Where: Carnesecca Arena
When: Sunday, December 16, 4:30 PM
TV: FS1 | FoxSportsGo
Audio: 970 WNYM | TuneIn Radio
Odds: St. John’s, -16
Last meeting: St. John’s is 9-0 against Wagner since 1978, winning by 9, 66-57, in Chris Mullin’s first year. Federico Mussini was the leading scorer, dropping 18 to lead two Red Storm players in double figures. St. John’s is 17-2 overall against Wagner in the history of their matchup.
Rankings & School Notes
Last season final KenPom Ranking: 180 | Current KenPom Ranking: 246
School size: 2,289 (1,812 undergraduates)
School is academically known for: Theater/ performing arts, health professions
Notable alumni: Robert Loggia (actor, Scarface, Necessary Roughness), Guy Molinari (politician, RIP from this July), Rich Kotite (former Jets coach), Molly Burnett (actress, days of Our Lives), Jedediah Bila (TV personality), PJ Carlesimo (basketball coach), three former Miss New Jersey pageant contest winners
Coming off of a resounding home win against Division III College of New Rochelle last week, where Wagner scored its highest point total ever, Wagner hopes to parlay a two-game winning streak into a big season-defining win against St. John’s.
In his seventh season, head coach Bashir Mason, at age 34, has a smooth ship running on Staten Island, with a very experienced squad. That experience — with four seniors in the rotation — is rare for a Northeast conference team. Only shooting guard Blake Francis transferred for more opportunity at Richmond.
Last season’s Wagner team won 23 games, winning the NEC outright before falling in the conference final; that team lost on the road to Baylor in the NIT, but was solid in conference at making teams struggle to shoot two-pointers and forcing steals with pressure.
This year’s team — possibly because of the loss of ballhawk Francis — is forcing far fewer turnovers against a so-so schedule. The Seahawks, like last year, still foul a lot. Seven other teams in Division 1 send opponents to the free throw line more than Wagner does. The Seahawks also allows opponents to take long distance shots despite being known for playing a fair amount of man to man.
Wagner also turns the ball over a fair amount, on nearly 23% of their possessions against Division 1 opponents.
The Seahawks will crash the offensive glass, however, and can be a danger there. They also take a lot of three-pointers. Even if they have not been successful, that desire to shoot and St. John’s three-point defensive results (which has allowed gaps to shoot for opponent) bears watching.
As far as players, Romone Saunders (#11) is a 6’3” scoring guard who has been at Wagner for five years. He is shooting 32% from outside the arc, but shot 40% from distance last season. Effective at drawing fouls and handing out assists, expect him to have the ball in his hands a fair amount for the Staten Island squad. That preponderance of possession may speak to his high turnover numbers, as well. He needs to be forced inside the arc and into traffic.
Other ballhandlers include freshman Jonathan Norfleet (#3), sophomore Tyler Plummer (#2) and sophomore Chase Freeman (#12).
Plummer has been an extremely low-possession player on the floor, but has dished out assists, forced steals and blocked four shots this season.
Freeman missed five games and has returned the last two, even making the starting lineup in the last game. He looked sharp; Chase Freeman had nine assists against New Rochelle.
Norfleet, who is 1/14 from outside of the three-point line, is very good at the rim, shooting 7/10 in close this season.
Devin Liggeons (#24) is another four-year player for Wagner who provides solid rebounding for a 6’3” player, and occasional bursts of scoring.
Bronx native Elijah Davis (#21) is another senior, who starts the game on the bench. Davis has not been great at shooting but will crash the offensive glass and force some steals. He scored 17 against Fairfield this season.
Jeff Coulanges (#22) has started that past three games, but has not been an aggressive scorer.
Tyrone Nesby (#13) is a 6’5” freshman who scored 11 and grabbed five total rebounds against New Rochelle. He has been willing to shoot from distance, and has even started two games; he has also shot 3/17 from outside the arc.
Up front, Wagner is led by senior AJ Sumbry (#4), a 6’8”, 230 pound big man who rebounds very well... but also fouls upwards of five times per 40 minutes. Sumbry is strictly an inside player. When forced from the rim, he has shot 22% on 2-pointers against Division 1 competition. But he can get to the rim and dunk; he’s been an excellent offensive rebounder for three years.
Nigel Jackson (#0) is a 6’7” starter who rebounds the defensive end exclusively. He will step out to shoot, and has connected on 36% of his three-point shots, but only 41% inside the arc. He also blocks shots. And commits quite a few fouls.
Wagner has a number of wings/ forwards who have played limited roles so far, but go big minutes against New Rochelle. Chance Anderson (#5) is 6’7”, 215 pounds, and an interior-oriented transfer from San Francisco. Tim Graham (#10) is 6’6” and takes most of his shots from behind the arc, where he connects on 33% of those shots.
Lonnie Rivera (#1), a 6’6” wing from Spring Valley, has been out for a few games, but played 20+ minutes in the first two contests.
Keys to the Game
Force mistakes. Wagner wants to play a controlled tempo on offense and crash the glass. St. John’s wants to speed them up, force miscues, and get out in open court to make this game a laugher.
Handle the glass. Like Rutgers and Bowling Green, Wagner will be an aggressive board-crashing team. Mustapha Heron, LJ Figueroa and Marvin Clark II will need to handle their business on the glass. And if the freshmen get in, they, too, will have a chance to test their mettle.
Keep playing seriously. For the Johnnies, an offensive burst has led to some attention-slacking on defense. The Red Storm have to put down a strong, complete effort and start showing they can play sharp defensive basketball for a full game, to go along with their sharp offensive ball.
St. John’s gets a solid groove going, 80-69.