QUEENS, N.Y. -
Continuing the start of BIG EAST play on the road and on national television, head coach Steve Lavin and his young St. John's basketball team (8-5, 0-1 BIG EAST) head to Cincinnati to meet the No. 14/15 Bearcats (13-1, 1-0 BIG EAST) at Fifth Third Arena on Saturday. The 4 p.m. matchup will be aired nationally on ESPNU with announcers Beth Mowins and Tim Welsh. The meeting can be heard live on the official radio flagship of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, and on RedStormSports.com (subscription), with veteran play-by-play announcer John Minko.
The Last Meeting
February 8, 2012
New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden)
Red Storm Falls To Cincinnati At The Garden, 76-54
St. John's "Fresh Five" - which has shown flourishes of its bright future over the past two weeks - displayed how young it is on Wednesday night at The Garden, as a tough night all around - shooting, rebounding and on defense - doomed the Red Storm to a 76-54 loss to the Cincinnati Bearcats.
Lavin returns in 2012-13 after posting a 2-2 record last season while making a full recovery from prostate cancer surgery (Oct. 6, 2011). Dr. Peter Scardino of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center placed Lavin on a modified schedule in 2011-12 that kept him off the sideline, enabling Lavin to better focus on a full recuperation, while simultaneously securing the No. 8 recruiting class in the nation per HoopScoop.com. St. John's 2012 recruiting class is comprised of eight standout student-athletes representing five countries. The highly-acclaimed group followed a 2011 class ranked No. 3 nationally by ESPN. Lavin is 31-19 at St. John's.
Saturday will be the 16th meeting all-time between the Red Storm and the Bearcats, with St. John's holding a slight 8-7 advantage in the series. Four of the last five contests in the series have been decided by exactly two points. Last season the teams split a pair of meetings, each winning on the road. In the first tilt, at Fifth Third Arena on Jan. 7, the Red Storm received a buzzer-beating tip-in from Moe Harkless (14 points, 14 rebounds) to stop a seven-game win streak for Cincinnati in 2011-12. In the second matchup, the Bearcats earned a 76-54 win at Madison Square Garden. D'Angelo Harrison scored a team-best 18 points in the first contest and chipped in with 15 points in the second meeting to compile a 16.5 points per game career average against the Bearcats. The Red Storm also managed a 59-57 victory at Fifth Third Arena on Feb. 13, 2011, aided by late makes from the charity stripe by Malik Boothe, Justin Burrell and Justin Brownlee.
Led by a career-best 36-point effort from Harrison, St. John's rallied to force overtime by erasing an eight-point deficit midway through the second half, but was ultimately defeated by Villanova, 98-86, on Wednesday in the BIG EAST opener for both teams. Harrison shot 6-of-12 from long range as part of his game-high 36-point performance, the most points scored by a Red Storm player since Lamont Hamilton scored 36 against Columbia on Dec. 23, 2006. Amir Garrett and Phil Greene IV added 15 points apiece to help pace St. John's, which shot 47.1 percent (32-of-68) from the floor and 50.0 percent (10-of-20) from distance. Jamal Branch scored 12 points, while Chris Obekpa, the nation's leader in blocks, finished with four swats.
Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection D'Angelo Harrison is now the league's leading scorer at 22.1 points per game (sixth nationally), and his 80.3 percent success rate at the free throw line ranks 10th among all BIG EAST players. The four-time BIG EAST Honor Roll member's 2.6 made 3-pointers per game rank tied for second in the conference, he holds the team lead and is tied for seventh in the league (T-73rd nationally) with 2.0 steals per game and his 34.8 minutes per game rank eighth in the BIG EAST. He is currently firing at a rate of 45.3 percent from the field and owns a 37.4 mark from beyond the arc. He has reached the 20-point plateau in 10 of St. John's first 13 games.
Second-year guard Phil Greene IV is making an early run as the BIG EAST's Most Improved Player. After averaging 7.6 ppg as a freshman, he is currently firing at an 10.4 ppg clip and showing his ability as a dynamic scorer and playmaker. His 3.5 assists per game rank tied for 16th among all BIG EAST players and his 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio is ranked 11th.
Sophomore swingman Amir Garrett closed out 2011-12 with 14-straight starts as part of the "Fresh Five." Garrett spent the offseason in professional baseball as a left-handed pitcher within the Cincinnati Reds minor league system. This season he is averaging 7.0 ppg and 5.8 rebounds with an impressive .507 field goal percentage and 2.3 offensive boards per game.
Motor City sophomore Sir'Dominic Pointer averaged 6.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 2011-12. The Red Storm's best on-ball defender is tied for 16th in the BIG EAST with a 1.3 steals per game average, and recently scored 12 points with seven boards, five assists and two steals against St. Francis (N.Y.) (Dec. 15).
Three-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week JaKarr Sampson owns a team-leading 6.9 rpg (11th in the BIG EAST) to go along with 13.7 ppg (16th) and a pair of preseason dunks that were selected as SportsCenter Top 10 plays. His rejections (1.7, tied for sixth) offensive boards (2.1 per game, T-16th) and defensive rebounds (4.8 per game, 13th) are listed among the league leaders.
A game-changing shotblocker who craves defense, 6-9 Chris Obekpa averaged 13.0 rebounds and 9.0 blocks per game as a high school senior on Long Island. The Nigerian native with the 7-5 wingspan led STJ with a school-record 11 blocked shots in the victory vs. Fordham (Dec. 8), and is averaging a NCAA Division I and BIG EAST-leading 5.2 rejections per contest.
Texas A&M transfer point guard Jamal Branch, who averaged 4.2 points, 2.5 assists, 2.2 rebounds and 18.6 minutes across 11 games for the Aggies in 2011-12, has now played in two games for his new squad, drawing one start. He is averaging 7.0 ppg, shooting 46.2 percent from the floor (6-for-13), and adding 2.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists to go along with 4.0 turnovers.
Athletic wing Felix Balamou continues to be a key playmaker. In the last 11 games he has averaged 3.5 ppg, connecting on 16-of-32 field goals (.500) while contributing 1.5 rpg in 12.0 minutes.
The final member of Lavin's eight-man recruiting class, freshman Christian Jones was the surprise of the preseason. He played one postgraduate year for IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., averaging 12.0 points and 5.0 rebounds. In exhibition play he averaged 12.5 ppg on 66.7 percent shooting with 8.5 rebounds.
JUCO transfer Orlando Sanchez will not participate Saturday as he awaits an eligibility ruling from the NCAA. Harvard transfer Max Hooper is eligible for game participation in the 2013-14 season.
Senior big man God'sgift Achiuwa, who averaged 9.5 ppg and 5.6 rpg in his JUCO transfer year in 2011-12, is in consideration for a redshirt season. Achiuwa, a member of St. John's University's prestigious President's Society, is on track to graduate with a degree in administrative studies and could complete Master's degree requirements by the end of 2013-14.
The Red Storm opens its BIG EAST home slate with three contests at The Garden against conference opponents it will face twice during the regular season. First, Rutgers comes to "The World's Most Famous Arena" on Wednesday, Jan. 9 (7 p.m., MSG).
No. 14/15 Cincinnati comes into Saturday's matchup at 13-1 after opening the 2012-13 campaign with 12 straight wins. After suffering their first loss of the year -- a one-point thriller to New Mexico -- the Bearcats opened BIG EAST play on Dec. 31 with a 70-61 win at No. 24/22 Pittsburgh. UC has an RPI of 21 with a strength of schedule ranked 138 in the country.
The Bearcats are outscoring opponents by an average of 19.6 points per contest, bolstered by the second-best rebounding rate (45.3 rpg) in the nation. UC mixes a high-powered attack (77.3 ppg) with a defense that is allowing opponents to connect on just 35.5 percent of field goals, second lowest in the conference.
Junior swingman Sean Kilpatrick is the Bearcats' leading scorer at 18.6 points per contest, fourth-best in the BIG EAST. Cincinnati rebounds by committee, with five players averaging at least 4.5 boards per game, led by Kilpatrick at 5.9. Senior sharpshooter Cashmere Wright is fourth in the conference, connecting from long range at a .457 clip.
Head Coach Mick Cronin is in his seventh season at the helm in Cincinnati and his 10th overall as a head coach, with a lifetime record of 195-113 and a 126-89 mark with the Bearcats. Last season, Cronin lead UC to the BIG EAST Tournament championship game for the first time in school history on the way to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA Tournament.