St. John's came out with guns blazing in the first half of the season opener, but first-game cobwebs began to show in the second phase as the Johnnies (1-0, 0-0 BIG EAST) went from boiling to medium heat.
The squad's impressive shooting performances early on gave them the cushion to, ultimately, shoot down the second-stanza soaring LIU Blackbirds, 83-70, Friday night at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y.
The Blackbirds (0-1, 0-0 NEC), led by the hot shooting effort of lone senior, guard Jaytornah Wisseh, almost rebounded from a 19-point deficit in the second half. LIU hit a groove on a 14-3 run to bring the Johnnies' generous advantage down to seven.
Wisseh, who led all scorers with 28 points and four assists, capped the substantial run at the 4:56 mark of the second half, when he nailed a pair at the charity stripe to bring the score to 71-64.
A foot ailment of reserve freshman point guard Malik Stith, prevented him from playing Friday night. Therefore, the Johnnies had no back-up player at the one to keep the same run-and-gun tempo as Malik Boothe when Boothe was fatigued. St. John's struggled to make buckets appear as it got trapped behind the Blackbirds' zone, forcing ill-advised shots and not setting up anything to the basket using the baseline or the high post.
"I think we just didn't have good ball and body movement, we got kind of stagnant," head coach Norm Roberts told RedStormReport.com. "Sometimes when you're making shots, I think then our guards started feeling like let's just pass it around the perimeter and we'll shoot a jumper. Instead of hey let's throw it into the high post, fan it out, let's move the ball. We didn't have good movement that way."
St. John's later extended the lead to 10 points, when junior forward Justin Brownlee (12 points, seven rebounds) grabbed a rebound on a missed shot by LIU's junior guard Kyle Johnson (seven points, eight rebounds) and cashed it in on the other end of the floor.
Wisseh hit his second three-pointer of the day with 1:11 remaining in the second phase, to bring the game back within seven, 75-68.
"Give them a lot of credit," Roberts said. "Wisseh played very, very good. He controlled the whole game and did a terrific job for them."
Though the Johnnies struggled to shake the LIU 2-3 zone to regain the offensive fluidity it had in the first half, the Blackbirds were still too late to overcome St. John's advantage created in the first phase and its added plays in the second phase that kept them at bay.
After a series of LIU fouls to get the ball in possession, the Johnnies were up by 11 points with 47 seconds remaining in the contest. Seconds later, a turnover by LIU freshman forward Jamal Olasewere (nine points), after St. John's junior guard Dwight Hardy (14 points) picked his pocket, opened up junior guard Paris Horne (12 points, five rebounds) for a fastbreak dunk into the cylinder.
The play lifted the Johnnies to its final 13-point advantage, 83-70.
In the contest, the Johnnies out-rebounded the Blackbirds 43-32, including a 27-17 advantage in the second half alone. However, LIU capitalized on St. John's 12 turnovers and converted them into 18 points.
"We played well in spurts," Roberts said. "First night- may be jitters. We had so many rebounds, had the balls in our hands that we bobbled and allowed them to score points."
The score was 50-36 at halftime, in favor of the Johnnies.
St. John's had one of its best shooting performances in the first half, as the Johnnies sank 8-of-16 from the perimeter and nearly 59 percent (20-of-34) overall. Junior swingman D.J. Kennedy led the way with three three-pointers in the half. Horne followed with two of his own.
Kennedy earned a team-high 16 points and seven rebounds, while teammate junior forward Justin Burrell chipped in 12 points and tied the game-high eight boards.
For LIU, junior guard David Hicks added 10 points.
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