It was the start of a new era on Tuesday night, and if these forty minutes are any indication, it’s going to be one fun ride on the corner of Union and Utopia this season.
On a night where the new-look Red Storm took the court for the first time since losing to Gonzaga in last year’s NCAA Tournament, each of the six members of head coach Steve Lavin‘s recruiting class scored in double figures as St. John’s tallied a resounding 110-80 victory over Division II opponent C.W. Post of Long Island.
“I was pleased with the first outing,” said assistant coach Mike Dunlap, who filled in for Lavin while the coach continues to recover from successful surgery to treat prostate cancer. “The players feel pretty good about the work they put in.”
Junior forward God’sgift Achiuwa was the first to make an immediate impact, leading the team with 21 points on 10-of-13 shooting. “I didn’t expect it to come so easy,” said the Nigerian-born big man, who was serenaded by chants of “God’s on our side!” from the St. John’s student section. “That really got me going.”
St. John’s took their time trying to establish their identity early, before using their athleticism and length to wear down C.W. Post in the second half. More of what this team is all about and what to expect in the second of two exhibition games next Tuesday against Division III St. Mary’s of Maryland will be explained in tonight’s lasting impressions, which returns to this space for its first full season.
– St. John’s was 11-2 when at least four players scored ten or more points in a game last season. Tonight, six (all six members of the new recruiting class) provided double-figure scoring efforts, marking the first time this many players accomplished this feat in Steve Lavin’s brief tenure. Included in that group for the Red Storm were three players (D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene, and Achiuwa) who posted 20-point performances. As a team, the team shot a staggering 66 percent (50-for-76) from the field.
– Despite only collecting 36 rebounds as a team, the big men did what they had to do to keep St. John’s in the game. God’sgift Achiuwa (21 points, nine rebounds) and Moe Harkless (14 points, 14 rebounds) provided the right mix of offensive and defensive productivity, but accumulated seven fouls between them. If Achiuwa and Harkless can stay out of foul trouble as the season progresses, (Harkless racked up two offensive fouls in the first eight minutes) St. John’s will have an inside presence to stand up to the size mismatches that will favor Big East adversaries the likes of Connecticut and Syracuse.
– Following a week of quiet confidence that established him as one of the early leaders on this young team, D’Angelo Harrison (20 points, four assists) struggled to find his shot early on. Noted for his long-range prowess, Harrison only made two of his seven triple attempts, but started to heat up down the stretch when he drained mid-range jumpers and a trifecta from the left corner late in the second half. When used correctly, Harrison could be a dangerous slasher in the Jeremy Hazell/Corey Stokes mold.
– The biggest and most pleasant surprise came from Phil Greene, who picked up the game ball with his 20 points on an 8-of-10 shooting effort that included a 4-for-6 showing from beyond the arc. Greene was quick to credit his teammates after the game for giving him open shots to set up his high offensive output. “I just wanted to let the game come to me,” the combo guard from Chicago said.
– Finally, there was something very noticeable when watching this St. John’s team run up and down the court in transition. Given their eight-man rotation, they bear more than just a striking resemblance to the 2008-09 Seton Hall squad coached by Bobby Gonzalez. That year’s Pirates team was a guard-heavy team that also ran eight men much like St. John’s, and was capable of scoring 90 points on any given night. The biggest difference at this stage is that St. John’s lacks the experience that the Seton Hall players had under their belts.