Playing its final tune-up before the official start of the 2019-20 regular season, the St. John’s men’s basketball team routed Queens College by a score of 94-59 in an exhibition contest on Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Four Johnnies finished in double figures in the team’s first public intercollegiate action under the direction of Head Coach Mike Anderson.
LJ Figueroa tallied a game-high 28 points, eight rebounds and three assists, connecting on 10 of his 18 tries from the floor, including a 7-of-13 effort from beyond the arc. Fellow Preseason Second Team All-BIG EAST selection Mustapha Heron added 25 points, seven rebounds, five steals and three assists.
Sophomore big men Josh Roberts and Marcellus Earlington also finished in double figures, tallying 14 and 12 points, respectively. Roberts also chipped in seven boards and two blocks for the Johnnies.
Guards Nick Rutherford and Greg Williams Jr. tallied five assists apiece on the evening while David Caraher added seven points in his first game action at Carnesecca Arena.
As a team, St. John’s shot 49.3 percent from the floor (37-of-75) and assisted on 24 of its 37 made field goals.
Queens College came out of the gate firing, using an early 14-3 run to move ahead by nine with five minutes gone in the contest.
The Johnnies slowly but surely shook off the cobwebs, responding with a lopsided run of their own to blow the game open early. A Rutherford steal-and-score with 8:14 to play in the first half made it 28-16 St. John’s, capping a 23-2 spurt over the span of six and a half minutes.
St. John’s continued to expand its lead over the closing minutes of the opening stanza, as an Earlington bucket in the closing seconds gave the Red Storm a 48-26 edge heading into the locker room.
With just about seven minutes gone in the second half, Queens whittled the Red Storm advantage to as little as 12, 59-47, following a 3-pointer from Elijah Bovell, who scored a team-high 22 points on the evening for the Knights. From there, St. John’s outscored Queens 35-12 the rest of the way, cruising to a 35-point victory.
The Red Storm will officially kick off the 2019-20 campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 6, playing host to Mercer at 6:30 p.m. The game will be broadcast live nationally on FS1.
To purchase single-game or season tickets, visit www.RedStormTix.com.
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Anderson
“The effort was tremendous. We had  deflections. To me, that’s an indicator that our guys are really getting out there defensively and that we came up with some of those loose balls. … I thought we were disruptive with our defense. We started off a little sluggish. Of course, let’s give Queens College a lot of credit. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They came out like that and made some shots. … Once our guys settled down we made some stops and made some adjustments. I thought our bench gave us some quality minutes. We know LJ [Figueroa] and Mustapha [Heron] are capable of getting some big numbers and they did tonight. But it’s good to see Josh [Roberts] continue to be as consistent. Marcellus [Earlington] gave us that grit, that glue kind of guy and that’s what I want. [We have] a lot of pieces and all we’re trying to do is put these pieces together to formulate a team that can go out, night in and night out, and compete and hopefully compete at a high level.”
On tonight’s performance…
“They’re playing with a sense of urgency. … They’re playing for each other. Once we got the lead, I thought we started looking at the clock as opposed to continue to work on the things we work on every day. … We saw our team make some tremendous runs with our defense. … We’re learning how to become the team we want to be. We have to be a team that plays multiple guys and who can play different positions. It was great to see Greg [Williams Jr.] out there. Greg has been ailing for the most part of the fall, so to see him go out and give us the minutes he gave us, that’s going to be important for our basketball team.”
On Josh Roberts playing off of Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa…
“[Josh Roberts] needs to be one of those guys who can play off of those guys. … He’s done a good job of going to the office and finishing around the basket. That’s what we want him to be. That’s going to be his role, the big energy guy. As he becomes the energy guy, there’s going to be some nights like it was tonight. He had a pretty good outing against Temple as well. As we get into the real season now, we’ll see if that continues.”
On Mustapha Heron going down during the game…
“I’ve seen Mustapha [Heron] go down a lot in practice, but he was good. … He’s a basketball player. He’s a veteran. He’s been around this game, so he’s use to what we do. Knock on wood. Thank goodness he was okay.”
On the team’s depth…
“I think Nick [Rutherford] is going to be important in what we’re doing, especially right now. He’s got some weapons out there and I’m looking at him to be one of the top assists guys in our league. Then you have a guy like Josh [Roberts] who is finishing around the basket and getting up and down the floor. Defensively, he does a pretty good job, but it’s still just getting a feel for playing with one another. Julian [Champagnie] played well against Temple. He looked like a freshman tonight and I let him know that. So let’s see how he responds, as we get ready to open up in a week. Marcellus [Earlington] is a guy who gives us quality minutes. David [Caraher] can be important in what we’re doing. He’s going to play with his heart and play with a lot of energy. He’s going to be able to stretch the floor at times and he’s capable of scoring. It’s not going to be just a two-man team. That’s been the message since I’ve been here. We have to have other guys step up. Of course, Mustapha [Heron] and LJ [Figueroa] are going to do their thing, but people will key in on them. There are going to be opportunities for other guys. Damien [Sears] has to come on for us. … He’ll have opportunities, especially in the non-conference schedule.”
St. John’s Senior Guard Mustapha Heron
On the first game of the year…
“Always excited. A lot of nerves. Personally, I think [Queens College] came out and they hit us first. They had it in the beginning and I think that once we kind of settled into those nerves and got that out the way, we pushed through it.”
On his injury in the first half…
“The floor was wet. I just slipped and did a little half split. … It scared me for a second, but it wasn’t really anything major. I just felt it in my hip. I felt like I did a split for a second, but I’m fine.”
On this year’s team…
“I think we can be a very special team in the BIG EAST. … We just have to focus on getting better. … We have to come into the gym every day for practice, get better and carry it into the game.”
On playing for Coach Mike Anderson…
“Any type of transition is easy when you’re willing to adjust. … Take the teaching and willing to just accept something new. I think as a team, we’ve done a pretty good job. I think we’ve done a great job actually of just accepting his experience from other schools, his coaching and his leadership.”
St. John’s Guard/Forward LJ Figueroa
On the team’s defensive pressure…
“Our defense definitely creates our offense. Most games are going to be won on the defensive side. We have a lot of young guys who just have to understand that defense makes the offense. We got a lot of stops today and pushed the ball. Our style of play is organized chaos.”
Queens College Head Coach Matt Collier
On St. John’s…
“The style is hard to play against, not just for us, for any opponent because they take you out of what you’re trying to do. … It wears on you, wears you down. Those guys do a great job of getting deflections, getting their hands on balls, which leads to run outs and they can get out in transition. I think [St. John’s Head] Coach [Mike] Anderson is a very good coach. He’s had success and this isn’t his first rodeo. … I was pleased to see he got the job. I’m very familiar with a lot of his staff members that I’ve known coaching Division I as an assistant, so I’m happy for these guys. I think they do have a chance to be good because their style of play. We played zone, but regardless of that, they really shoot the ball well. … I think they have a great opportunity to stun some people this year and I hope they do it.”