Nov. 19, 2013
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QUEENS, N.Y.(AP) - St. John's showed some improvement in its long-range offensive game, but it was a transition in the Red Storm's defense that caused problems for Bucknell. Junior Phil Greene IV scored a season-high 16 points, including some rare 3-pointers for St. John's, and Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin switched to a combination of 2-3 and matchup zones in the second half as SJU topped the Bison, 67-63, on Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.
Bucknell spread the court on offense and was able to stay in front for the first half and the first eight minutes of the second. Then a couple of long shots started falling for St. John's - in part thanks to Greene IV's efforts - and Bucknell struggled against the Red Storm's zone looks, a defense that helped St. John's block 13 shots, the most since Dec. 21 of last season, and held the Bison to 39.3 percent shooting in the second stanza.
"It was a tale of two halves with Bucknell having their way in the first 20 minutes and St. John's having a dominating performance in the second half," said Lavin. "It was a quality win for our team given the stage of the season. Bucknell is going to be a handful for any team they play this season."
The Red Storm (2-1) came into the game having made two of 23 3-point attempts, and that included missing all 10 in a win over Wagner last Friday. Things didn't start out so well against the Bison (2-2) either as St. John's was 1-of-8 on 3s in the first half.
Greene IV hit two 3s in a span of 51 seconds to give the Red Storm a 46-45 lead - its first of the game since 2-0 with only 15 seconds elapsed. Greene IV's best offensive output since his 18 points on March 24, 2013, vs. Virginia came via an efficient 7-for-12 mark from the field that included connecting on the pair of 3-pointers in only four attempts.
Bucknell's Brian Fitzpatrick scored down low with 10 minutes left to give the Bison a 51-48 lead, but the Red Storm went on a 12-0 run that was capped by a jumper at the shot clock buzzer by JaKarr Sampson (11 points, six rebounds) with 8:22 to play and Bucknell wasn't able to play from behind, closing within four points three times.
"The zone defense was the difference. It took them out of their rhythm and set up the blocks because it kept our bigs at home," Lavin said. "Offensively there was progress with some timely shots, especially Phil, and we had just enough down the stretch, making free throws to salt the win away."
Chris Hass hit a 3-pointer that brought Bucknell within 61-57 with 1:02 to play. The Bison wanted to send the Red Storm to the free throw line but they had just one team foul. Bucknell committed five fouls in four seconds and finally got St. John's to the line with 57 seconds to go and D'Angelo Harrison (12 points, 5-of-6 free throws) made both ends of the 1-and-1. The Red Storm went 4-of-6 from the free throw line over the final 34 seconds.
The Red Storm, which led the nation in blocked shots last season at 7.3 per game, were keyed by Chris Obekpa, who paced the NCAA last season with 4.03 per game. The sophomore center swatted with seven Bison attempts to go along with six points and six boards. Senior Orlando Sanchez rejected four and also contributed six points and five rebounds.
"We feed off blocks," said junior forward Sir'Dominic Pointer, who had four points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. "Obekpa is the best in the country. We get hyped and that makes us more energetic."
Cameron Ayers led the Bison with a game-high 25 points. The only other meeting between the schools was a 26-18 St. John's victory on Feb. 10, 1912.
The four-game non-conference homestand continues with two-straight contests at Carnesecca Arena. The Red Storm opens play with two on-campus games as part of the Barclays Center Classic presented by Continental Tire. Monmouth comes to Queens on Friday, Nov. 22 (9 p.m., FOX Sports 1) followed by Longwood on Tuesday, Nov. 26 (7 p.m., FOX Sports 1), prior to St. John's second appearance in two seasons at the new Brooklyn Barclays Center.