QUEENS, N.Y.- Ten Red Storm players saw game action, five scored in double-figures and rookie big men Christian Jones and Chris Obekpa each posted double-doubles as St. John's prevailed over the NCAA Division III Concordia Cougars, 87-36, before 3,829 at Carnesecca Arena in Queens.
Jones finished with a game-high 17 points on 8-of-9 field goals and added 10 boards, while Obekpa chipped in with 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds to go with a game-high seven rejections. Obekpa's paint presence keyed a stifling 40-minute defensive effort which saw St. John's allow just 12 second half points.
Amir Garrett and JaKarr Sampson added 15 points apiece, and Sir'Dominic Pointer scored 12 points for the Red Storm, which finished with 22 assists on 38 field goals. A 57.6 percent (38-of-66) shooting mark for the game was buoyed by an array of dazzling dunks and high percentage looks that led to 58 points in the paint and 20 fast break points.
"One of the positives is this team really looks to hit the open man and has a willingness to make that extra pass. That's an important quality if you're going to have success as a basketball team. The 22 assists to 11 turnovers is an indication of that," said STJ head coach Steve Lavin. "I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of our half-court defense and moving our feet on the defensive end of the court. That's what comes with a younger team; they have great energy, but you have to channel that energy and it's how you better focus that energy in a productive way."
Mason Prowse had a team-high nine points and team-best six rebounds for Concordia, which was limited to just 4-of-24 (16.7 percent) shooting in the second half. The Red Storm defensive effort recorded 15 blocked shots on the night in limiting Concordia to just 23.8 percent (15-of-63) shooting for the game.
Concordia scored the first points of the game and led 6-4 with 17:07 to play before an Obekpa jumper gave St. John's the lead for good, a 7-6 advantage at the 15:36 mark. After St. John's eventually extended its lead to nine points, Concordia pulled back to within five at 18-13 before a Garrett fast break layup and a pair of fastbreak dunks from Jones helped key an 11-2 run that put the Red Storm up by 14 points, 29-15, with 6:46 left before the break. St. John's closed the half on an 8-0 spurt in the final 1:21, a rally that opened with another Jones slam before a Khadim Ndiaye layup just before the buzzer gave the Red Storm a 47-24 lead at halftime.
Prior to the game, Lavin announced that Red Storm returning scoring leader D'Angelo Harrison would not start, citing a need for the sophomore guard to heighten his sense of leadership on Lavin's young squad. Lavin addressed the situation in the postgame news conference.
"Because he's in a leadership role, he's going to be held to a high standard. 'Those that are given much, much is expected,' is one of Coach [John] Wooden's favorite quotes, and D'Angelo is someone who's had a great deal of success early in his career at St. John's, so he's going to continue to grow and mature as a basketball player," said Lavin "What he did was pretty minor in the grand scheme of things, but it's the little things that make a difference when you're building a culture and trying to teach young people."
Lavin continued, "I've been really pleased with D'Angelo's response to both not starting in the first exhibition game and not playing in the second exhibition game. I was really pleased with him all day today and how he was on the bench, he really had the right attitude."
The largest winner on Tuesday may have been the Coaches vs. Cancer organization. Concordia head coach Tyler Jones, a prostate cancer survivor who has told his story with Lavin on ESPN's "Outside the Lines," has credited Lavin's April 2011 announcement about his battle with the disease as the impetus behind Jones' own diagnosis and successful treatment. The game bore a Coaches vs. Cancer theme, featuring cancer awareness programs and fundraising initiatives, and several fans "Dressed Like Coach Lavin" by wearing sport coats and sneakers. Both coaching staffs donned that look for the game. Fans can text the word COACH to 20222 to make a $5 donation to Coaches vs. Cancer.
The Red Storm regular season begins as part of ESPN's fifth-annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon on Tuesday, Nov. 13. St. John's will meet Detroit at 2 p.m. at Carnesecca Arena on ESPN with a chance to avenge a loss from last season's Dick Vitale Court Dedication game in the Motor City. The matchup is the eighth contest slated as part of the marathon that features 11 live college basketball games in 24 consecutive hours on the primary broadcast network of the "Worldwide Leader in Sports." John Saunders will have the play-by-play call for ESPN, with analysis provided by St. John's legend and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Chris Mullin (1981-85) and former Red Storm head coach Fran Fraschilla (1996-98).