St. John's Mauls Mercer Wire-to-Wire
JAMAICA NY - Within six minutes of the game, all nine eligible scholarship players already checked in. By the final buzzer, essentially all of those guys played significant minutes in a non-competitive contest. It was an unfamiliar scene in Queens that marked the start of a new era of St. John’s basketball.
The Red Storm opened the 2019-2020 season Wednesday evening with a historic outing under first-year coach Mike Anderson, cruising past Mercer 109-79 inside Carnesecca Arena. The 109 points scored was St. John’s biggest offensive explosion in 20 years and was the highest total by a coach making his St. John’s debut.
A better script couldn’t have been written for Anderson’s start to his tenure in New York City as he brings a new style of play featuring up-tempo offense and pressure defense that requires a deep bench rotation.
“It was definitely good,” senior guard Mustapha Heron said of the new system, “but coach always stresses to us that it's just like practice. People may think that we’re out of control and stuff, but a lot of stuff we do is scripted. So we just kind of went out and we try to play the same way we play in practice.”
Heron led the team with 25 points on 4 of 6 shooting from 3-point range and was aided by his running mate LJ Figueroa, who added 18 points in the win. St. John’s had eight players log at least 18 minutes with no one exceeding 30 minutes in a wire-to-wire victory.
Minutes into the game, St. John’s got into its full court press against an overmatched opponent and feasted on the additional possessions and favorable scoring opportunities to build a double-digit lead before the under-12 media timeout. In the opening nine minutes, St. John’s forced nine turnovers building a 32-15 lead that only widened before the 30-point final margin.
“I continue to talk about the effort of our guys going out and trying to play defense the way we work on in practice every day,” Anderson said. “So, it's good to see them bring their practice to the game and it started with our defense. We came out and played a half-court, man-to-man defense where we're pressuring, getting in the lanes and then that led to some opportunities on the fast break.”
The Red Storm thrived off its defense, scoring 30 points off the 24 forced turnovers. They finished with 40 fast break points, taking advantage of the change of possessions before the defense could recover and defend. One of the more notable stats was 52 points in the paint — including 18 of the first 25 points scored.
“I thought defensively, we did some really good things, I really, really did,” Anderson added. “We shared the basketball; we got the right guys taking the shots at the right time and we got to the free throw line.
“We only had nine turnovers playing at that pace. When you play as many guys as we’re playing, all that does is add a little bit more value to your team because now you’re trying to create some depth. That’s what we have to do in this non-conference schedule, create some more depth.”