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St. John’s wins big in opener against Mercer, 109-79

The opener for Mike Anderson’s St. John’s squad was an off-to-the-races affair.

Wendell Cruz

The St. John’s Red Storm cracked 100, had five players in double figures, and ran away with their opener by the break, beating the Mercer Bears by a final score of 109-79.

St. John’s looks to keep it rolling against the Central Connecticut State Blue Devils on Saturday at 4:00 PM back in Carnesecca Arena.

The defense early showed considerable promise with noticeable opportunities for improvement. With only nine scholarship athletes, the Red Storm picked their spots on when they implemented a full-court press. Even when they weren’t pressing, St. John’s was always pressuring the ball-handler and switching often on screens. However, there were more than a fair share of avoidable fouls and missed switches on defense that can likely be corrected as the season goes along.

St. John’s struggled to finish defensive possessions, however. At the midway point, Mercer had more offensive rebounds (13) than they had defensive rebounds (9).

Offensively, LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron shined before the half. LJ got St. John’s going early converting all of his first three attempts and finishing the half with 9 points (3/7 FG, 0/1 3PT). When LJ cooled off, Mustapha heated up to the tune of 15 points (5/9 FG, 3/5 3PT). The Red Storm collectively took care of the ball, committing only 4 turnovers before halftime.

At the break, the Red Storm led the Mercer Bears 59-38.

St. John’s came out of the break with an underwhelming effort on defense, far from the story in the first half. After a timeout three minutes in, the team picked up the intensity with Mustapha leading the way vocally. When Mustapha spoke, everyone in Carnesecca could hear him.

From there on out, the defensive intensity picked up, and unlike the first half, St. John’s finished defensive possessions. Instead of giving up 13 offensive boards like they did in the first half, the Red Storm allowed an improved (yet, less than ideal) six in the second half.

Offensively, St. John’s did little to extend its 21-point halftime lead until the last 10 minutes or so of the game. The Red Storm struggled early in the half to get the easy looks it created in the first half, but in the final 10 minutes, St. John’s converted three offensive possessions in a row.

Despite leading Mercer by 30 points or more for the final 10 minutes of the game, Coach Anderson left guys projected to be in the regular rotation in until there was just under two minutes remaining — likely because of the short bench.

Both Nick Anderson and David Caraher burnished their scorelines, finishing with 14 and 12, respectively.

After the walk-ons came in, Mercer offered a couple competitive offensive possessions, but eventually, the clock ran out with St. John’s up 109-79.

Impactful changes and key returns were the noteworthy keys to this most recent off-season. New coach Mike Anderson has impressed the St. John’s community with his blue-collar, tireless approach to recruiting. Anderson’s relentless recruiting style is alleged to be much like the way his teams in the past have played, often describe at 40 Minutes of Hell. With the key return of both LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron, Anderson may be able to implement his 40 Minutes of Hell faster than expected.

Predicted Minutes of Hell Rating: 25 minutes of hell | 15 minutes of “what the hell was that”

Author’s Actual Minutes of Hell Rating: 26 minutes of hell | 14 minutes of “what the hell was that”

St. John’s Red Storm

Mustapha Heron: 25 points (7/13 FG, 4/6 3PT), 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover

LJ Figueroa: 18 points (6/13 FG, 1/3 3PT), 3rebounds, 3 assists, 2 turnovers

Marcellus Earlington: 17 points (7/13 FG, 1/2 3PT), 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 turnover

Mercer Bears

Ethan Stair: 23 points (8/16 FG, 3/8 3PT), 10 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers

Luke Hamilton: 10 points (4/9 FG, 2/6 3PT), 5 rebounds, 1 turnover