Nov. 22, 2013
QUEENS, N.Y. - In a college basketball season filled with early upsets, an extraordinary effort by Phil Greene IV, JaKarr Sampson and D'Angelo Harrison - and the latest in a series of block parties hosted by game-changing national rejections leader Chris Obekpa - ensured that St. John's would not be the latest victim.
The Red Storm needed a pair of huge 3-pointers from Harrison in the final 4:07 and another clutch 3-ball from Greene IV with just 1:04 to play, and the Red Storm held off upset-minded Monmouth, 64-54, before a crowd of 4,185 at Carnesecca Arena on Friday.
Greene finished with game-high 22 points on 9-of-12 field goals and a 2-for-4 effort from long range to follow his team-best 16-point effort in St. John's win over Bucknell only three days ago. Harrison added 15 points in 16 minutes, which included a 3-of-6 mark from beyond the arc, coming through in the clutch and overcoming night plagued by foul trouble. Sampson chipped in with 14 for St. John's (3-1), his fourth double-figure output in as many games this season, and added nine boards. Monmouth (1-3) was led by Justin Robinson's 15 points.
The Hawks went toe-to-toe with St. John's for much of the contest, trailing just 28-26 at the half and holding a 40-38 lead with 14:14 to play after a 3-point bucket by Robinson. The Red Storm struggled with team defense all evening and undersized Monmouth outrebounded St. John's, 44-35, outscored St. John's in the paint, 32-16. That did not sit well with St. John's head coach Steve Lavin.
"We give full credit to Monmouth for competing and giving themselves a chance to win. I was not pleased with our effort on the defensive end of the floor. I felt that we were a step slow the entire night," said Lavin. "We made enough shots, we made enough free throws late and enough stops to get the win. There are a myriad of areas that we need to improve upon. Monmouth came in and gave a valiant effort on their part, we're not taking anything away from their players who played their hearts out. We have to do a better job of things we can control and I thought defensively we were awful tonight."
Despite an overall defensive effort that was not praiseworthy, the Red Storm did tie a single-game program record with 15 blocked shots (Fordham, Dec. 8, 2012). Obekpa, who led the nation in rejections at 4.03 per game last season, was only two off his individual game-record with nine swats, to go along with four points and five boards. The 6-9 big man with the 89-inch wingspan has patrolled the paint to the tune of 16 combined blocks over the last two games.
Monmouth was still lurking late in the game and trailing just 51-47 with 4:25 to play after a free throw by Deon Jones. But that's when Harrison and Phil Greene IV took it upon themselves to thwart the Hawks' upset hopes.
Harrison drilled a 3-ball with 4:07 to play to give St. John's a 54-47 advantage. When Monmouth answered with back-to-back jumpers by Max DiLeo and Jones to pull within three, it was Harrison again with another three-pointer which gave the Johnnies a 57-51 cushion with 3:03 to play. Monmouth never got closer than five points the rest of the way and when Greene IV bagged his 3-ball with 1:04 remaining.
"He's got that Reggie Jackson thing going," Lavin said of Harrison's late-game heroics. "He wants to seize the moment. He's a big-game, big-moment player. He and Phil are a nice tandem."
"I think my teammates do a good job finding me," said Harrison, who entered the contest second in the BIG EAST in scoring at 21.3 points a game. "I live for those kinds of moments."
Earlier in the evening, it was announced that freshman guard Rysheed Jordan would not play in the game due to an undisclosed violation of team rules. Jordan was named the 2013-14 BIG EAST Conference Preseason Rookie of the Year and has averaged 4.3 points and 2.3 assists in three contests this season.
Non-conference action continues with one final Pre-Thanksgiving contest at Carnesecca Arena. The Red Storm continues play with an on-campus game as part of the Barclays Center Classic presented by Continental Tire, taking on Longwood on Tuesday, Nov. 26, prior to St. John's second appearance in two seasons at the new Brooklyn Barclays Center on Friday.