St. John’s were heavy favorites coming into tonight. But the game isn’t played on Vegas’ big boards; after 37 difficult minutes, the Red Storm found a way to pull away in the end, winning 82-79 in Queens against Rider to finish non-conference play.
“We didn’t play well,” said St. John’s coach Mike Anderson. “But we found the resolve to finish the game. That’s going to pay off for us. When you’re not at your best, you gotta find a way to win.”
The first few minutes looked promising on paper, with the Johnnies up 9-2 early. But despite forcing miscues and denying passes inside, and looking like the athletically and experience-superior team, the Johnnies had a hard time executing.
“We came out lackluster,” Vince Cole said.
The Rider Broncs kept it close, and took the lead after ten minutes. Foul trouble by Greg Williams Jr. contributed; without him, the Johnnies played some experimental lineups from the bench that were ineffective, though John McGriff made some solid plays down the stretch in the first half.
The Broncs and Red Storm went back and forth, with guards Rodney Henderson and Dwight Murray putting up shots to get them within striking distance. A 6-0 gave Rider a lead that would balloon to 10 in the second half.
The Red Storm struggled to get live ball turnovers. They missed at least four open shots at the rim, including a transition layup and a dunk. They got 12 offensive rebounds and 15 more shots. They forced turnovers on 20% of Rider’s shots, but could not generate multiple stops + scores.
It took a 14-3 run for St. John’s to get on top again, powered by Marcellus Earlington getting to the rim and Julian Champagnie getting space under the basket. The game was not secure; Rider’s Tyrel Bladen went on a 5-0 run to help the lead get back to six for the visiting Rider.
A 13-4 run, led by the revitalized Vince Cole (who got to step into jumpers instead of create off the dribble), put the Red Storm over the top.
Ball movement and energy were lacking in this game — not just against the Rider zone, but the zone, like in previous contests, saw the Red Storm dribble to probe for spaces instead of passing to move the zone.
Cole, who had scored under six points per game while committing an average of three turnovers in each of his last three, knew he needed to step up and be “involved” — in his words, looking to score. He surged late when the Red Storm were able to get some penetration on the opposite side of the court and give him catch-and-shoot opportunities — instead of Cole trying to work opportunities off the dribble.
Cole had 10 of his points in the final three minutes of the game, showing the confidence he displayed in the first game. He scored 17 of his team-high 26 in the second half.
Julian Champagnie had 18 points and Marcellus Earlington scored 16. posh Alexander had eight assist, Dylan Addae-Wusu had five. Greg Williams was limited to 19 of the 40 minutes, scoring five with three assists and two steals.
Seton Hall is the next challenge for the Johnnies as the Big East opener; the contest was originally a trip to face Connecticut and welcome them back to the Big East, but they were (once again) welcomed to a positive COVID test and are on pause.