Against the lesser-regarded St. Francis Brooklyn out of the Northeast Conference, 27-point underdogs (FWIW), St. John’s had a rough go of most of the contest before emerging victorious, 76-70, against the Terriers.
The Terriers have given the Red Storm some trouble in the past, but not quite like this.
At the beginning of the game on the bench were both of the team’s point guards. Posh Alexander was sidelined for the game what was described as a lower leg injury. And with Rafael Pinzon also sidelined with a broken finger, the starting lineup included Dylan Addae-Wusu.
Early on, St. John’s came out a step slow on defense, and willing to settle for threes and jumpers on offense. Looking for the threes, the Johnnies struggled to hit from the perimeter...
...but St. Francis’ Todrick Wilcox, Jr. took all of his early opportunities to build confidence. The SFC wing quickly got hot, leading the Terriers to an early 16-4 lead in front of the Carnesecca crowd. The Terriers enjoyed a 14-0 run, but the Red Storm took a time out to right the ship.
A 13-0 run, which included six points from Aaron Wheeler and a back door dunk from Julian Champagnie, seemed to put everything back to where the fans and pundits expected — a blowout.
With the game tied at 19, St. Francis went on a 9-0 to push the lead to nine. St. Francis spent the first half finding open spots for threes, and took more threes than twos in the half, while the Johnnies shot 25% from deep and rarely got to the line.
The Red Storm battled back, putting together a couple of scores in a row, but could not get over the hump against the Terriers.
Despite the shooting, despite the Red Storm dealing with a struggling Champagnie, despite the Johnnies unable to take the Terriers out of their game, St. John’s had re-righted the ship going into the locker room down two against the tough Terriers.
With the game within two, St. Francis started the second half on a 8-0 run. They got five offensive rebounds in the span of the first four minutes, part of a continued out-working of the Johnnies on the glass.
An 11-0 run from St. John’s gave the Red Storm the lead, re-re-righting the ship with a Montez Mathis dunk.
Of course, St. Francis went on a 14-4 run, starting on the next possession with a Terrier layup.
Around this point, St. John’s stepped up the energy and, tired of re-re-re-righting the ship, went on a 16-2 run to build their first lead since the 17th minute.
The Terriers tired, Dylan Addae-Wusu got some steals, and Champagnie got some run outs and shots at the rim. The Red Storm spaced out a bit better, sticking with Tareq Coburn, Stef Smith, Champagnie, Mathis and Addae-Wusu for much of the half.
Stef Smith had some solid plays in the half as the lead guard and Champagnie poured in 14 in the period, even as the threes continued to miss, even as Dylan Addae-Wusu struggled handling the ball in traffic as a point guard, even as clearing the defensive glass continued to be an issue.
St. John’s wins, and face NJIT on Saturday at 4 pm, hoping to have a more cohesive performance with or without their point guards.
Credit due to the St. Francis players: Todrick Wilcox had 19, Larry Moreno had 15, and two other Terriers were in double figures on the night. The Terriers got 16 offensive rebounds (to St. John’s 21 defensive rebounds), nearly half of their misses.
Julian Champagnie led St. John’s with 23, plus six rebounds, five assists, four blocks and four steals. No French hens, turtle doves or partridges in pear trees.
Montez Mathis had 20, and Stef Smith and Dylan Addae-Wusu each added 10 points. Smith had six assists. Addae-Wusu led the team with seven defensive rebounds.