The St. John’s men’s basketball team notched its second-straight 30-point victory, as the Johnnies rallied past Central Connecticut State, 87-57, on Saturday at Carnesecca Arena.
Mustapha Heron erupted for 30 points, shooting 10-of-15 from the floor while burying a career-high six three-pointers to help the Red Storm improve to 2-0 on the campaign.
LJ Figueroa finished with 17 points going 5-for-10 from distance. The Lawrence, Mass., native also recorded six rebounds to go along with a game-high six assists. Julian Champagnie was the third Johnnie to notch double-figures by scoring 10 points to go with eight rebounds.
Damien Sears was a spark off the bench for the Red Storm, as he led the team with 11 rebounds while recording eight points on 4-of-8 shooting in a productive 13 minutes of action. The junior college transfer from Western Oklahoma State pulled down 10 of his boards after intermission.
As a team, St. John’s shot 44.7 percent from the field and outscored Central Connecticut 38-14 in the paint. The Johnnies’ tenacious defense forced 21 turnovers, which were converted into 24 points.
The Red Storm doubled up Central Connecticut in the latter stanza, outscoring the Blue Devils 48-24 in the final 20 minutes. St. John’s busted the game open by recording 20-straight points in less than five minutes, an offensive surge that was fueled by a trio of three-pointers from Figueroa.
After leading by six points at the break, St. John’s saw its advantage cut in half 16 seconds into the second frame when Jamir Coleman knocked down a three-pointer to make it a 39-36 contest. The Johnnies quickly answered and never looked back after going on a 24-1 run that featured nine consecutive made field goals.
Champagnie helped jumpstart the offensive surge with back-to-back buckets that were followed by a steal and slam by Heron to open a double-digit lead, 46-36, with 17:36 to go. Figueroa was responsible for nine of the team’s next 11 points and gave St. John’s a 21-point cushion with his fifth triple of the game less than two minutes later.
The Johnnies continued to pour it on Central Connecticut with Champagnie and Greg Williams, Jr. throwing down dunks that were followed by a Sears’ layup to put St. John’s ahead 63-37 with just under 14 minutes to play.
St. John’s defense suffocated the Blue Devils during this stretch, forcing seven turnovers while holding them without a field goal for more than six minutes.
The Red Storm’s advantage ballooned to 35 thanks to another 17-6 run that put St. John’s up 87-52 with just over two minutes left in the contest. Heron sparked that spurt with his sixth three-pointer of the night.
Despite getting off to an early 13-4 advantage, the Red Storm couldn’t create much separation from Central Connecticut in the opening stanza. Heron scored 19 of the team’s 39 first half points on 6-of-8 shooting to offset a 9-for-29 field goal showing from the rest of the squad.
In addition tying for seventh place on the program’s single game chart with six three-pointers on Saturday, Heron also eclipsed the 1,500-point mark with the second 30-point outburst of his career.
St. John’s returns to action on Tuesday, playing host to New Hampshire at 7 p.m. inside Carnesecca Arena. The contest will be televised nationally on FS2 and over the airwaves locally on 970 AM WNYM.
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Anderson
On today’s overall performance…
“We came into this game with the mindset of just trying to get better from the last game and I’m glad it went the way it did. It was a tale of two halves. The first half, we didn’t shoot the ball well and so in the second half, I thought our defense kicked in and then we made some shots. We got the game going up and down the floor to our liking. We didn’t do a good job at the free throw line, but at the end of the day, you want to find a way to win. I had a chance to play a lot of guys and that only gets us more experience.”
On Mustapha’s performance…
“Mustapha is a guy who wants to be coached. I think he wants to get better. When I give him critiques, he responds the right way. He’s got a good basketball IQ and he embraces wanting to be a leader. We talk about him being a key component on this team, he knows that and he embraces it.”
On Mustapha’s leadership…
“I believe this is an opportunity for him to lead and he’s not only doing it by example, he’s doing it in the locker room. Leadership to me is earned and I believe he’s really earned that right with his teammates.”
On Julian Champagnie’s performance…
“That was probably one of Julian’s finest performances today. Especially that second half. It seemed like he was everywhere, he was protecting the rim, deflecting passes and cutting loose balls. He was guarding guards and just making good decisions. The strength factor is something I think that he struggles with at times, but now he’s using his athletic ability and his quickness. Every day in practice, these guys, they get after it and so I’m glad to see him play with a lot of confidence.”
St. John’s Senior Guard Mustapha Heron
On how it feels to play his second season at St. John’s…
“I think that this year I’m in a little bit better shape. I think taking my body and my game a little more serious over the summer is showing in our games. I don’t think it’s much of a difference between last year and this year. I think I just came into shape this year and I’m getting healthy. “
On what makes him a successful player in Coach Mike Anderson’s system…
“I think it’s a lot of motion and a lot of cutting. I think I’m a pretty good catch and shoot player so as long as I find open space, it’ll be easy for me to get points.”
On what Coach Anderson told them at halftime…
“Just staying with it. Everybody gives in at one point. I think that we found their breaking point at about the 14-minute mark. I think it’s just staying at it, staying at it every possession. Teams are going to have success against us early. I think it’s just a matter of staying with it on both ends of the floor and just keep pressing and pushing.”
On his offseason dieting…
“It was more of my own thing, just kind of started doing my own research on different things as far as like food and stuff. I cut out meat and dairy processed foods. No fast food. No McDonald’s. No steaks. I eat fish, pretty much a pescatarian. I feel a lot faster, a lot more mobile and I recover better.”
On how his mentality has changed this season…
“I think it comes with just getting older. The professional mentality is coming in and handling business. I think as an older guy you kind of see everything, you’ve been around the block. I’ve been in school for four years, not that you know what to expect, but you can prepare for what’s going to happen. I think that’s the biggest difference between me over the last three years.”
St. John’s Guard/Forward LJ Figueroa
On if he sees a difference in Heron this season…
“I feel like he’s accepted his leadership role, just keeping us on pace. When things aren’t going right, he keeps us together.”
On Nick Rutherford’s impact on the court…
“Well Nick [Rutherford] is a big piece of our team. He’s our starting point guard. He’s the head of the snake. We obey whatever he says. He’s our point guard so you have to listen to him. He brings a lot of leadership. He’s just a great person.”
Central Connecticut State Head Coach Donyell Marshall
On St. John’s…
“The ‘40 minutes of hell’ is trying to get you to play selfish, to play one-on-ones, to try to take bad shots so they can go out. First half, we moved the basketball, we played as a team and it was a six-point lead. Second half, we cut it to three at the end of the half and played right into their hands.”
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