QUEENS, N.Y. -
Continuing their road swing, looking to avenge a 58-56 loss at the hands of the Scarlet Knights from Jan. 9 at The Garden, and seeking separation in the middle of a conference standings logjam, head coach Steve Lavin and the St. John's basketball team (11-7, 3-3 BIG EAST) head to the banks of New Jersey's Raritan River to close out the regular-season series against local BIG EAST foe Rutgers (12-5, 3-3 BIG EAST). The 7:30 p.m. Wednesday rematch airs in the New York area on SNY with announcers Scott Graham and John Celestand. 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 John Minko and Brandon Tierney.
The Last Meeting
January 9, 2013
New York, N.Y. (Madison Square Garden)
Lavin is back 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 rookie 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's record at St. John's is 34-21.
According to RPIRankings.com (Jan. 22), St. John's owns a current RPI of 69, with the 31st-toughest schedule in the nation (8-3 home; 3-2 road; 0-2 neutral). The Red Storm is 2-1 on the road in the BIG EAST, having posted road wins over DePaul (71-62, Jan. 19) and then-No. 14/15 Cincinnati (53-52, Jan. 5) after falling at Villanova in overtime (98-86, Jan. 2).
Sir'Dominic Pointer registered his first-career double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds) and Jamal Branch scored a career-high 18 with four steals and three assists as four Red Storm players reached double-figures to lead St. John's to a 71-62 decision at DePaul on Saturday. D'Angelo Harrison added 15 points, eight boards and three steals and JaKarr Sampson finished with 10 points and five rebounds. The Red Storm shot 49.2 percent (29-of-59), totaled a 44-28 advantage in the paint and turned 18 DePaul turnovers into 24 points.
Wednesday marks the 40th contest between St. John's and the Scarlet Knights in a series that dates to 1974. St. John's leads the all-time series 25-14 and has a 13-7 advantage in BIG EAST play. St. John's is 7-3 in the last 10 meetings, but has not won at The RAC since Feb. 6, 2008. The teams met just two weeks ago at MSG, and despite 20 points from Harrison and 12 from Sampson, St. John's was hampered by a 15-of-27 effort at the free throw line (55.6 percent), and Rutgers denied two STJ game-winning attempts in the final eight seconds.
A Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, D'Angelo Harrison is second in the league in scoring with 19.6 points per game (T-19th nationally), and his 76.6 percent success rate at the free throw line ranks 16th among all BIG EAST players. The five-time BIG EAST Honor Roll member's 2.2 made 3-pointers per game rate fourth in the conference, he holds the team lead and is ninth in the league with 1.83 steals per game and his 35.5 minutes per game rank sixth in the BIG EAST. He is currently firing at a rate of 42.4 percent from the field and owns a 32.2 mark from beyond the arc. He has reached the 20-point plateau in 11 of St. John's first 18 games and scored a career-high 36 at Villanova (Jan. 2).
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 scoring at an 8.6 ppg clip and showing his ability as a dynamic playmaker despite a hip injury. His 2.8 assists per game are in the top 20 among all BIG EAST players and his 1.9 assist-to-turnover ratio is ranked 10th.
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. In BIG EAST play he is averaging 7.3 ppg and 4.5 rebounds with an impressive .500 field goal percentage (tied for 13th) in 23.7 minutes per game.
Motor City sophomore Sir'Dominic Pointer is averaging 6.3 ppg and 4.2 rpg in 2012-13. The Red Storm's toughest on-ball defender is averaging 10.8 ppg on 71.4 percent shooting from the field (15-for-21) with 5.8 rebounds (eight of 23 offensive), 2.0 assists and 1.5 steals across the last four games.
Four-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week JaKarr Sampson leads BIG EAST freshmen in both scoring (13.6 ppg, tied for 19th overall) and rebounding (6.6 rpg, 11th overall). His rejections (1.3, tied for ninth) and defensive rebounds per game (4.7, 11th) are listed among the BIG EAST Conference leaders. Two of Sampson's preseason dunks were selected as SportsCenter Top 10 plays.
A game-changing shotblocker who craves defense, 6-9 Chris Obekpa -- the gamechanger with the 7-5 wingspan who paces the nation in rejections at 4.8 per contest -- led STJ with a school-record 11 blocked shots in the victory vs. Fordham (Dec. 8), and has nine games of five rejections or more. He tied the St. John's single-season record (76) in only 15 games, and eclipsed it in 16, now totaling 87. In conference play, he averages a league-leading 3.8 swats per game and ranks ninth with 7.3 rebounds.
Texas A&M transfer point guard Jamal Branch, who averaged 4.2 points, 2.5 assists and 18.6 minutes across 11 games for the Aggies in 2011-12, has now played in six games, drawing three starts. He is averaging 9.5 ppg, hitting at a 55.6 percent clip from the field (24-for-45), and adding 2.2 assists.
Athletic wing Felix Balamou continues to be a key playmaker. In the last 16 games he has averaged 2.7 ppg, connecting on 18-of-38 field goals (.474) while contributing 1.3 rpg in 10.8 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 Wednesday 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 the midst of 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.
Keeping the Jersey theme for a second straight game, Seton Hall visits The Garden for a regular season St. John's contest for the first time since 2005-06 on Sunday, Jan. 27 (noon, MSG Network).
Rutgers comes into Wednesday's matchup at 12-5 and 3-3 in the BIG EAST, tied with the Red Storm for sixth in the conference. RU will be looking for its best start in the BIG EAST since joining the league in the 1995-96 season. The Scarlet Knights have and RPI of 41 after playing the 44th-toughest schedule in the nation.
The Scarlet Knights have some of the best shooters in the BIG EAST, ranking fifth in the conference from the field (.429), third from long distance (.340) and first from the charity stripe (.789) during conference play.
Rutgers boasts a young, talented backcourt in sophomore guards Eli Carter (16.2 ppg) and Myles Mack (12.9 ppg). The Scarlet Knights also have a veteran frontcourt in senior swingman Dane Miller, redshirt junior forward Wally Judge and senior forward Austin Johnson, all of whom are shooting better than 50 percent from the field.
Head Coach Mike Rice is in his third season at the helm of the Scarlet Knights with a 38-40 slate. Rice has built the Rutgers Athletic Center into one of the toughest places to play in the BIG EAST, with an 8-2 record at home this season. Three of the last four Top 10 teams to enter the RAC lost at the hands of Rice's squad.