The media attention hovering around St. John’s since the hiring of Rick Pitino has been overwhelming. Ceremonial first pitches, drive-time radio interviews, fundraising dinners, media days, photo ops with 2 Chainz. At the end of it all, there was basketball to be played and St. John’s fans finally got to witness Rick Pitino don his signature suit and coach the Red Storm after months of hype. Those fans did not head home disappointed as the Red Storm dispatched the Stony Brook Seawolves, 90-74, in Pitino’s first game as head coach of the success-starved program.
Pitino deployed a potpourri of different plays and actions, something that has been foreign to St. John’s basketball for a very long time. High-low action between big men, pick-and-rolls, motion offense, and a game-long commitment to ball movement. These different looks allowed multiple players to share the opening night spotlight.
Daniss Jenkins was a spark plug, scoring 17 points and flirting with a triple-double by recording 8 assists and 7 rebounds. Jordan Dingle, who missed two scrimmages with a shoulder injury, put up 13 points off the bench.
Chris Ledlum’s tenacity on the glass was felt throughout the night. He collected a team-high 14 rebounds, nine of which were offensive boards. He also chipped in a pair of threes.
And of course, Joel Soriano.
After notching 25 double-doubles a season ago, he continued where he left off by scoring a team-high 22 points and picking up 11 rebounds in the process. What has everyone talking is his shooting.
Prior to Tuesday night, Joel Soriano had never attempted a single three-pointer in his collegiate career. He sunk each of his two attempts against Stony Brook, both from the top of the key. After drilling his first one, he theatrically pointed to former teammate Julian Champagnie sitting courtside.
In his postgame press conference, Rick Pitino mentioned that Soriano had been dealing with plantar fasciitis, but he did not appear to be impeded by the injury tonight.
Despite the strong collective offensive performance, this game was not picture-perfect for St. John’s. Their defense sagged in the second half, allowing Stony Brook to shoot 53 percent from the field and 3-for-5 from three after holding them to 36 percent shooting from the field and 1-for-11 from three in the first half. The Red Storm also gave up 15 turnovers, with six coming from Daniss Jenkins. There is still work to be done for this team to reach its NCAA tournament potential, and we’ll begin to learn a lot more about this squad when they clash with Michigan on Monday night.