Led by 25 points from LJ Figueroa, the St. John’s men’s basketball team used a late run to pull away from New Hampshire, 74-61, and remain unbeaten on the young season at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday night.
Figueroa, whose 25 points matched a career high set early last season against Maryland Eastern Shore, also grabbed eight rebounds and swiped five steals in the win. The junior wing connected on five of his nine three-point attempts, marking his second straight outing with five made triples.
The Red Storm (3-0) led by just three with six and a half minutes to go before blowing the game open with a 12-0 run. Julian Champagnie scored seven points on the tear, including a thunderous put-back dunk off a missed free throw and an old-fashioned three-point play. Figueroa added the other five points during the decisive spurt.
Champagnie scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting and pulled down nine rebounds, both of which were season-highs for the freshman in his third collegiate game. The Bishop Loughlin product also blocked a shot, marking his third outing in as many chances with at least one rejection.
Sophomore forward Josh Roberts finished in double figures for the first time as a member of the Red Storm, scoring a career-high 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting. The Troy, Ala., native also grabbed seven rebounds and blocked four shots for the third straight game.
David Caraher added nine points on 3-of-6 shooting, including a 2-for-4 showing from three-point range. Marcellus Earlington also connected on three of his six tries from the floor, finishing with eight points and four boards.
Despite scoring only five points on an off-shooting night, Mustapha Heron matched a career high with five assists while surrendering just one turnover. Heron had scored 25 and 30 points, respectively, in his first two games on the season.
Nick Rutherford dished out five assists and grabbed six boards in 31 minutes of action.
The Red Storm has now started the year with three straight wins in each of the last five seasons and six of the last seven campaigns overall.
Both squads got off to a hot shooting start on Tuesday night, as each sank four of their first six attempts during the opening four minutes of action.
Leading 8-7 after a Roberts’ layup with 17:04 to play, St. John’s went without a point for nearly six minutes and committed four turnovers during that stretch. New Hampshire (2-1) would build its lead to as many as 12, 23-11, near the midway mark of the half.
From there, the Red Storm came alive, unleashing a 12-3 run to pull within three, 26-23, on an Earlington layup with 5:43 to play in the period. Roberts added four points on the run, while Figueroa and Caraher chipped in three apiece.
New Hampshire used a pair of threes to move back ahead by nine, but the Johnnies outscored the Wildcats by a 13-2 margin over the final four minutes to half to take a two-point lead, 36-34, into the locker room. Figueroa scored nine points on the run, sinking a pair of triples and converting on an old-fashioned three-point play.
With the game tied at 42 and just about five minutes gone in the second half, the Red Storm unleashed an 11-1 run to take its first double-digit lead of the evening. Earlington scored four points on the spurt before Caraher punctuated it with a wide-open triple from the top of the key.
New Hampshire would not go quietly, whittling the St. John’s lead down to three, 57-54, on a Nick Guadarrama three-ball with 6:39 to go.
From there, the Red Storm put the game out of reach with that decisive 12-0 run. Champagnie kicked off the scoring with a long two before Figueroa drained a three and made a layup through contact. Figueroa could not convert on the three-point play, but Champagnie was there to clean up the free throw miss with a thunderous slam. The freshman would then cap the run with a three-point play of his own, putting the Red Storm ahead by 15 with less than five minutes to go.
The Red Storm will continue its season-opening homestand on Saturday afternoon, playing host to Vermont at 4 p.m. inside Carnesecca Arena. Vermont, who already owns road wins this season over St. Bonaventure and Bucknell, won 27 games a year and advanced to the NCAA Tournament after winning the America East.
Saturday’s contest with Vermont will kick off a stretch that could see the Johnnies play as many as three NCAA Tournament teams in their next four games. The Red Storm will host Columbia on Nov. 20 before taking on Arizona State at Mohegan Sun on Nov. 23. The Red Storm could potentially meet defending national champion Virginia the following day in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament.
St. John’s Head Coach Mike Anderson
“Really proud of our guys for really getting it up in the second half and figuring out what we didn’t do in the first half. We didn’t take care of the basketball. We didn’t shoot very well. But let’s credit Coach [Bill] Herrion and his team. They were prepared. They came in prepared and they actually took the fight to us. I thought they were a little more physical than we were. And to have a chance to win on the road, you have to be able to shoot the basketball and they made shots in the first half.”
On the team battling back after a slow start…
“To our guys credit, we got down double figures, but the game is 40 minutes. Whether you’re up or down, you just have to stay in the moment and we were able to do it with guys coming off the bench. I thought Marcellus [Earlington], David [Caraher], Greg [Williams], that bunch came out and they became a blue collar team that started doing the things that enabled us to get back in the game.”
On the first half compared to the second half…
“We were able to take a two point lead at the half. [In the] second half the wear and tear was a big part of it. We defended much, much better and we took care of the basketball. We had 10 turnovers at halftime. We’re working our butts off to make them turn it over and they had 10 turnovers and we had 10 in the first half too. … Just uncharacteristic turnovers, but we cleaned it up and the second half I thought was much, much better. It shows you we’re not just a one or two man team. Mustapha [Heron] didn’t score. Early on, got in foul trouble, played nine minutes in the first half, but you can see his presence out there. He ended up with five assists. Sometimes you have to be a facilitator when you know teams are going to designate that they’re going to get after you. At the same time, we have some guys who came off the bench and gave us some quality minutes. Julian [Champagnie] continues to play with a lot of confidence. He had almost a double-double and hit some big shots for us in the second half. You only gain confidence by doing that.”
On LJ Figueroa’s performance tonight…
“He didn’t panic. I think that’s the biggest thing. They didn’t panic. Our team didn’t panic. We know what he’s capable of doing, so he had an opportunity to do that. Mustapha wasn’t out on the floor, so you also have to credit the guys that were out there with him. They will get him open and get the ball to him. … Early on I thought he played a little tight. He was really tight and loose with the basketball early on. Then all of a sudden we got a rhythm and the game was played at a better pace and I think that suited LJ and our team.”
On the struggles in the first half…
“We settled. … We’re not the type of team that can show up and win. We have to be blue-collar. We have to do the right things defensively and offensively. I really believe that we came out and just went through the motions early on. It was just a matter of when I got some of those guys out there who were on the bench. I thought they triggered the defensive effort and that kind of trickled over to the offensive side.”
On Josh Roberts’ performance…
“He’s just playing with maximum effort. He’s the energy guy and it just takes our guys to another level. … He’s finishing off shots around the basket, he’s getting extra shots. He’s playing to his strengths.”
On David Caraher, Marcellus Earlington and the bench…
“In this particular game tonight they were good. David [Caraher] came out and the first three he hit in the first half I thought was big. I thought it stopped the run and it got us some momentum. He hit one in the second half as well, but you know David is an energy guy. He’s a grit kind of guy.
“[Marcellus Earlington] doesn’t mind being very physical, he does a pretty good job of getting into the passing lane and he got to the free throw line a couple of times. … Our bench is going to be a very important component on his basketball team. The more I can get those guys playing time, the better our team will be.”
On who will be impact players this season…
“It’s going to be somebody different every night. Tonight, we saw it was a combination of guys. … We scored 74 points and our leading scorer, [Mustapha Heron], who is getting almost plus 20 and only has five points. It shows our team that we have some guys that are capable of filling in and helping the team win. Even when you say that, defensively we only gave up 61 points, so our defense was pretty good as well tonight.”
St. John’s Guard/Forward LJ Figueroa
On coming back in the second half…
“They punched us in the mouth in the first half. We just kept buying into coach’s system and we kept playing the way we play. We knew that they were going to get fatigued after a while and that’s what happened.”
On picking up the scoring when St. John’s trailed in the game…
“We practice how we play. … My teammates found me in the right spots and shots were falling. My teammates put me in the right position to score the ball. I don’t think I did it all by myself. There’s four other guys on the court with me. We have a whole bench and a coaching staff that all help me to be in the best position to score the ball.”
On what to expect against Vermont…
“We’re going to go out there and play hard as a team. We’re going to go back to the drawing board, go to practice and do whatever it takes.”
St. John’s Forward Josh Roberts
On other players being able to step up when Mustapha is struggling…
“Like coach says all the time, we’re not just a one-man or two-man team. Everybody can contribute and do different things on a different night. Every night could be somebody else’s night.”
New Hampshire Head Coach Bill Herrion
On St. John’s…
“In the second half we knew they were going to turn the heat up defensively and I think they adjusted by staying home, staying on the shooters and tried to make us make individual plays.”
On LJ Figueroa…
“We couldn’t handle [LJ] Figueroa the last 5-7 minutes in the first half. We had a lot of trouble with him. He’s a big wing, a big guard with size that can shoot the three. He’s just a good basketball player and a talented kid. He was the difference in this game.”
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