Dec. 15, 2012
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BROOKLYN, N.Y.- Game-changing freshman center Chris Obekpa hasn't taken long to make himself a factor for St. John's. The 6-foot-9 native of Nigeria with the 89-inch wingspan blocked nine shots, two shy of the school record he set last weekend against Fordham, as the Red Storm beat St. Francis, N.Y., 77-60, on Saturday at the Barclays Center.
Obekpa has 58 blocks in 11 games - an average of 5.3 per game to rank third among all NCAA Division I players - and his smile always lights up when he is asked about doing what he does so well.
"Yes," Obekpa said when asked if he enjoyed blocking shots. The expanded answer gave a little more insight. "I just play basketball, and the blocks are coming. I go for every shot," he said.
Sophomore guard D'Angelo Harrison, who led St. John's with 25 points , didn't hesitate to say how much Obekpa helps the overall team defense.
"We can play with more defensive pressure and play up on guys knowing Chris is back there," Harrison said. "He helps your confidence for sure. He'll break a lot of records."
BIG EAST Rookie of the Week JaKarr Sampson had 21 points and 12 rebounds for St. John's (8-3), marking his third-career double-double, and sophomore swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer added 12 points - all in the second half - to go along with seven rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers in 24 minutes.
Jalen Cannon had 14 points and 12 rebounds for the Terriers (2-7), whose campus is less than two miles from the Barclays Center. Akeem Johnson totaled 13 points and 11 rebounds.
The Red Storm, who led 45-35 at halftime, took a 56-41 lead eight minutes into the second half. St. Francis closed within six points before Pointer scored six points in a run that gave the Red Storm a 66-49 lead.
St. John's shot 43.5 percent for the game (30-of-69), including making 6-of-14 3-point attempts. The Terriers shot 31.3 percent (21-of-67) and made seven of 24 3-point attempts. St. Francis managed to stay even on the boards at 47-47.
The talk after the game was all about Obekpa.
"The way he plays at the rim, he's like a soccer goalie," said Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin. "He has such great basketball intellect. He stays out of foul trouble and he's selfless at the offensive end of the floor. Then there's his poise and maturity. He knows this game."
St. Francis coach Glenn Braica said Obekpa was a big reason for the Terriers taking 24 3-point attempts.
"Our inside game has been great this year. I think the kid Obekpa may have had something to do with that," Braica said of the long shots. "As you know he's a game-changer and he takes away the inside. He kind of forced us to take some shots deep."
The game was St. John's first in Brooklyn since Dec. 10, 1958, when the then-Redmen beat Brooklyn College 93-68.
St. John's, which is located in the borough of Queens, was founded in Brooklyn in 1870. The Redmen were tough at home in Brooklyn, compiling a 156-11 record (.934 winning percentage) in DeGray Gym from 1932-56. Their last game in that building was a 103-65 win over Roanoke on Dec. 8, 1956. St. John's moved into Alumni Hall in Queens which has since been renamed Carnesecca Arena in honor of former coach and Naismith Memorial Hall of Famer Lou Carnesecca.
St. John's squares off with UNC Asheville - a squad that nearly became the first No. 16 seed to upset a No. 1 when the Bulldogs challenged Syracuse in the 2012 NCAA Second Round - on Friday, Dec. 21 at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN3. STJ renews a new favorite Pre-Christmas tradition: "The Ugly Holiday Sweater Game."