First-year Head Coach Mike Anderson will make his Madison Square Garden debut on Saturday afternoon at 12 p.m. when the Red Storm welcomes undefeated West Virginia to “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
Tickets for the contest are available by visiting RedStormTix.com or by calling 1-888-GO-STORM. Those who cannot make the game in person can watch live nationally on FS1, as Brian Custer and Jim Spanarkel will call the action live from Midtown. John Minko and Brandon Tierney will handle broadcasting duties on the Red Storm Sports Network from Learfield IMG College, available on 970 AM WNYM, TuneIn and Sirius XM.
The Johnnies will play the first of seven regular season games this year at “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” the remaining six of which will come against BIG EAST foes. The Red Storm’s showdown with the Mountaineers is part of the inaugural BIG EAST-Big 12 Battle, which pits the two 10-team conferences against one another prior to the start of league play. The BIG EAST went 2-0 on the scheduling alliance’s opening night, as DePaul beat Texas Tech in Chicago and Georgetown topped Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Marquette and Kansas State will also meet on Saturday.
Saturday’s tilt between St. John’s and West Virginia will also serve as the annual Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival, as the Red Storm will make the program’s 53rd appearance all-time at the premier in-season event. The Johnnies are 75-39 all-time at the Holiday Festival, which used to feature as many as three games at “The Mecca of Basketball.” St. John’s last met a Big 12 team in the Holiday Festival back in 1987, taking the championship game against a Kansas squad that would go on to win the national championship that spring.
The Red Storm rides into Madison Square Garden on the heels of a three-game winning streak, downing UMass in the consolation game of the Air Force Reserve Tip-Off Tournament at Mohegan Sun before earning back-to-back victories at Carnesecca Arena over Wagner and Saint Peter’s.
Following consecutive scoring efforts in the single digits against Arizona State and UMass in Connecticut, senior guard Mustapha Heron averaged 17.5 points per game in the Red Storm’s wins against the Seahawks and Peacocks. The team’s leading scorer this season at 15.0 points per game, Heron shot 50.0 percent (12-of-24) from the floor during that stretch in Queens, including a 6-for-14 (42.9%) showing from three-point range. On the season, Heron leads the BIG EAST in three-point field goal percentage, knocking down exactly half of his 38 attempts from beyond the arc in the early going of 2019-20.
Another threat from deep on the Red Storm roster, LJ Figueroa snapped a brief scoring skid by posting a game-high 19 points against Saint Peter’s on Tuesday night. After recording back-to-back single-digit scoring efforts for the first time in his St. John’s career, the junior wing made six of his 11 tries from the floor and sank all five of his free-throw attempts in addition to logging six rebounds, three assists and three steals. On the season, Figueroa is shooting 44.0 percent from beyond the arc, nearly six full percentage points higher than his 38.3 percent showing a year ago. During that sophomore campaign, Figueroa excelled under the bright lights of MSG, averaging 15.2 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting, including a 43.8 percent effort from downtown, in the Red Storm’s five regular season games in Midtown. The Lawrence, Mass., native most memorably recorded a 22-point, 12-rebound double-double in the Red Storm’s thrilling come-from-behind win over defending national champion Villanova on Feb. 17.
Also making his Madison Square Garden debut will be freshman forward Julian Champagnie, who has been Anderson’s most consistent producer so far in 2019-20. The Brooklyn native has logged a team-high seven double-figure scoring efforts in just nine tries, ranking third on the team with 11.7 points per game, good enough for third in the BIG EAST among freshmen behind Jeremiah Robinson-Earl and Justin Moore of Villanova. Champagnie, whose father won a national championship with the St. John’s men’s soccer team in 1996, logged the first double-double of his collegiate career with 14 points, 11 rebounds and three assists against Saint Peter’s on Tuesday night. He ranks second on the team and eighth in the BIG EAST with 7.3 rebounds per contest.
Champagnie’s front-court companion, Josh Roberts has been enjoying a breakout sophomore season in his first campaign under the direction of Coach Anderson. After averaging 1.2 points and 1.6 boards per game in 6.3 minutes during 18 appearances as a freshman, Roberts has established himself as one of the BIG EAST’s best post players. The Troy, Ala., native is averaging 8.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, including 4.0 offensive rebounds per outing. Ranking 12th nationally in offensive rebounds per game, Roberts also checks in at no. 16 in Division I with 2.9 blocks per contest.
A BIG EAST foe of St. John’s for nearly two decades, West Virginia returns to Madison Square Garden with an unblemished marked of 7-0 after defeating Rhode Island on Sunday in Morgantown. Earlier that week, the Mountaineers downed Northern Iowa and Wichita State on back-to-back days to win the Cancun Challenge.
Four Mountaineers are averaging double figures this season, led by senior guard Jermaine Haley at 12.3 points per game. A former junior college teammate of Figueroa’s at Odessa College, the 6-foot-7 Haley is shooting 68.1 percent from the floor and averaging more than six rebounds per game. During the Mountaineers’ most recent outing against Rhode Island, Haley scored 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting.
A McDonald’s All-American last season, freshman Oscar Tshiebwe is averaging a near double-double with 12.3 points and 9.7 rebounds per game. Hailing from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tshiebwe has recorded two efforts of at least 19 points and 17 rebounds, posting 20 points and 17 boards in the Backyard Brawl against Pitt before logging 19 points and 18 rebounds against Wichita State in Cancun.
The squad’s leading returning scorer from last season, sophomore forward Derek Culver is averaging 11.1 points per game, including a team-high 25 points against Rhode Island on Sunday. Another sophomore forward, Emmitt Matthews Jr., rounds out the Mountaineers’ contingent double-figures scorers at 10.6 points per contest.
Coming off a 15-21 effort in 2018-19 that featured a 4-14 record in Big 12 play, the Mountaineers were predicted to finish fifth in a preseason vote by the conference’s coaches.
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