St. John’s will continue their non-conference schedule this afternoon when they host the Niagara Purple Eagles. The Johnnies are coming off a pair of close wins on Monday and Tuesday against Temple and Syracuse, respectively, at the Barclays Center that led them to an Empire Classic Championship.
Most recently, the Red Storm took down Syracuse in an OT thriller that saw themselves play yet another poor first half, trailing the Orange by six at the break. The Red Storm rallied in the second half with much better defense and better scoring efficiency, at one point going on a 16-2 run, which sent the game to overtime, where the Johnnies dominated with an 11-4 OT period.
Mike Anderson relied heavily on his starters against Cuse, only giving one bench player more than 10 minutes and playing three starters for at least 40 minutes. Joel Soriano continued his dominance, scoring 19 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. The Red Storm center currently leads all Division I players in double-doubles. Andre Curbelo had 23 points, 6 assists, and 4 steals on his way to an Empire Classic MVP award.
Who: St. John’s Red Storm (6-0) vs Niagara Purple Eagles (3-2)
When: Saturday, November 26, 2022, 2:00 PM
Where: Carnesecca Arena, Queens, New York
Odds: St. John’s -18.5
History: The Red Storm have played exactly 100 contests against the Purple Eagles, winning 73 of those matchups. The most recent time the teams faced off was on December 9, 2015, as the Johnnies came out with a 48-44 win.
The Purple Eagles come into today’s matchup on a three game win streak, having logged victories over Central Arkansas, Stetson, and DII program D’Youville. Prior to those games, Niagara dropped their first two matchups to Maryland and Bucknell. They come into today with a KenPom ranking of 246th out of 363 DI teams, while St. John’s currently sits at 32nd.
Niagara is coached by former Duke starting guard Greg Paulus, who is in his fourth season as head coach of the program. Last year he led the Purple Eagles to a 14-16 record and a tied-fifth place finish in the MAAC. This offseason, he had to recruit a lot of players and coaches as many did not return, with this year’s roster only containing three players from last year’s.
One returning player is the leading scorer for the Purple Eagles so far this season, 6-3 senior guard Noah Thomasson, who played at Houston Baptist and Butler Community College before joining Niagara last season. So far this year, Thomasson has averaged 14.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per game.
Thomasson is joined in the starting backcourt by a couple of guards in their first DI seasons, 6-2 junior Braxton Bayless and 6-4 freshman Bryce Moore. Bayless is a JUCO transfer from Indian Hills Community College, and so far for Niagara has averaged 9.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.8 assists while shooting 57.6% from the floor. Moore is a true freshman, and is averaging 8.2 points and 3 boards with a 53.8 three point percentage on 2.6 attempts per contest.
Niagara’s starting frontcourt is led by 6-7 grad big Sam Iorio, a returning player for the Purple Eagles who played two seasons at American and a season at South Alabama before joining Niagara before last season. This year, Iorio is averaging 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 1 block per game. He is joined in the starting frontcourt by 6-7 sophomore forward Aaron Gray, a transfer from DII Southern New Hampshire who is averaging 9.6 points and 5 rebounds so far this year.
Off the bench, Niagara has seen a lot of different guys get looks so far this year, with three of them having come into all five games. One of those guys is 6-6 grad guard David Mitchell, who previously played three seasons at Brown. Mitchell averages 24 minutes off the bench, where he scores 5.4 points and grabs 3 rebounds per game.
6-3 junior guard Lance Erving, a transfer from JUCO Chipola Community College, has also played in every game off the bench so far for the Purple Eagles, and averages 3.6 points in 16 minutes per game. 7-0 freshman big Harlan Obioha has also checked into every game, and has put up 2.4 points and 3.6 boards in 6.4 minutes per contest.
Keys to the Game
Dominate the matchup. Niagara is nowhere near the level of Temple or Syracuse, who the Johnnies have recently had some close battles with. The Red Storm should be able to dominate the Purple Eagles with a win by a pretty large margin.
Win inside. With no starters that are taller than 6-7, Niagara will have no one to match up with Joel Soriano inside. The Red Storm should expect yet another big game from their big man, in addition to everyone on the squad getting good looks inside.
Clean up the sloppiness. The Johnnies looked very sloppy at times against Syracuse, as they did finish the game with 16 turnovers, a few of which were completely unforced. They need a cleaner game against a Niagara team that should not be able to keep up with the Red Storm at all defensively.
The Red Storm take care of business with an 82-60 win.