QUEENS, N.Y. -
With head coach Steve Lavin back on the bench and victories in six of the last nine matchups, the St. John's basketball team (15-10, 7-6 BIG EAST) looks to make a push toward the postseason in its last five games, beginning with a Wednesday Carnesecca Arena contest against the USF Bulls (10-15, 1-12 BIG EAST). The 7 p.m. meeting -- the last of the year in Queens on a night that will feature a Lou Carnesecca Bobblehead giveaway to the first 4,000 fans and a halftime presentation recognizing more than 50 Red Storm Basketball alumni -- airs in the New York area on SNY with announcers Quint Kessenich and John Celestand. The contest can be heard live on the official radio network of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, and on RedStormSports.com (subscription), with announcers John Minko and Brandon Tierney.
The Last Meeting
January 18, 2012
Tampa, Fla. (St. Pete Times Forum)
Defensive Effort Helps USF Prevail Against St. John's, 64-49
Playing on the road for the third time in the past four games, St. John's was held to 49 points for the second-straight game as USF, which leads the BIG EAST conference in scoring defense, notched a 64-49 win at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. St. John's had won six-straight in the series against the Bulls.
According to RPIRankings.com (Feb. 18), St. John's owns a current RPI of 58, with the 18th-toughest schedule in the nation (11-3 home; 4-5 road; 0-2 neutral). That includes a 4-2 BIG EAST home record. With a 6-1 mark in 2012-13 in Queens, St. John's is 434-82 (.841) in 516 games and 51-plus years at Carnesecca Arena, which has served as STJ's on-campus home since 1961.
Last Thursday St. John's opened the second half on a 10-0 run to take a one-point lead with 15:32 to play, but No. 12/12 Louisville responded down the stretch to defeat the Red Storm, 72-58. D'Angelo Harrison scored 18 points to become the 48th player in St. John's history to reach the 1,000-point plateau, tied as the eighth-fastest player in school history to do so. Phil Greene IV scored a team-high 21, while JaKarr Sampson added eight points and nine rebounds. Chris Obekpa grabbed 12 rebounds to go with three blocked shots and Marc-Antoine Bourgault scored six points on a 2-of-4 performance from long range.
Wednesday marks the ninth all-time contest between the two programs, with St. John's holding a 6-2 advantage. In the last meeting on Jan. 18, 2012, Moe Harkless, God'sgift Achiuwa and Greene all scored in double figures, but it wasn't enough to top a stingy USF defense and 24 points from Victor Rudd, as the Bulls prevailed, 64-49, in Tampa.
A Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, Harrison is third in the league in scoring with 18.3 points per game (T-40th nationally), and his 77.9 percent success rate at the free throw line ranks 14th among all BIG EAST players. The six-time BIG EAST Honor Roll member's 2.1 made 3-pointers per game rate seventh in the conference, he holds the team lead and is 15th in the league with 1.44 steals per game and his 35.0 minutes per game rank tied for sixth in the BIG EAST. He is currently firing at a rate of 40.3 percent from the field and owns a 31.2 mark from beyond the arc. He has reached the 20-point plateau in 13 of St. John's first 25 games and scored a career-high 36 at Villanova (Jan. 2).
After averaging 7.6 ppg as a freshman, guard Phil Greene IV is currently scoring at a 9.4 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 2.0 assist-to-turnover ratio is ranked ninth. In the last six games he is averaging 12.7 ppg, 2.8 assists and is shooting 1.000 (11-of-11) from the line.
Sophomore swingman Amir Garrett spent the offseason in professional baseball as a left-handed pitcher within the Cincinnati Reds minor league system. He is averaging 5.9 ppg and 4.5 rebounds with an impressive .475 field goal percentage in 20.7 minutes per game in a reserve role.
Motor City sophomore Sir'Dominic Pointer is averaging 7.2 ppg on a league-second 58.2 percent shooting mark, with 6.0 rpg (T-14th) and 1.54 spg (ninth) in BIG EAST play. St. John's toughest on-ball defender is heating up, averaging 7.9 ppg on 55.8 percent shooting from the field (29-of-52) with 6.2 rebounds (19-of-68 offensive), 2.5 assists and 1.6 steals across the last 11 games.
Six-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week JaKarr Sampson leads BIG EAST freshmen in both scoring (14.5 ppg, T-15th overall) and rebounding (6.7 rpg, 11th overall). His rejections (1.16, 11th) and offensive rebounds per game (2.1, 12th) 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, 6-9 Chris Obekpa -- the rookie with the 7-5 wingspan who is second in the nation in rejections with 105 -- led STJ with a school-record 11 blocked shots in the victory vs. Fordham (Dec. 8). He tied the St. John's single-season record (76) in only 15 games, and eclipsed it in 16, now averaging 4.2 bpg. In conference play, he averages a league-leading 3.2 swats and is tied for 10th with a team-best 6.5 rebounds.
Texas A&M transfer point guard Jamal Branch has played in 10 games, drawing seven starts with five wins. In BIG EAST play he is averaging 9.0 ppg, hitting at a 50.0 percent clip from the field (33-of-66, 11th), and adding 2.6 assists and 1.6 steals (T-10th). He scored a career-best 18 at DePaul (Jan. 19).
French sharpshooter Marc-Antoine Bourgault has caught fire in the last four games, which includes three starts. He is averaging 8.0 ppg during that stretch in 22.5 minutes, which includes a 40.0 percent field goal mark beyond the arc (8-of-20).
Athletic wing Felix Balamou continues to be a key playmaker. In his last 22 appearances he has averaged 2.2 ppg, connecting on 20-of-45 field goals (.444) while contributing 1.1 rpg in 8.9 minutes.
The final member of Lavin's eight-man recruiting class, freshman Christian Jones was the surprise of the preseason. In exhibition play he averaged 12.5 ppg on 66.7 percent shooting with 8.5 rebounds, and has scored in 13-of-18 appearances on the year.
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, could complete Master's degree requirements by the end of 2013-14.
St. John's second-straight home game comes on Sunday, Feb. 24, at noon, as No. 20/22 Pitt visits The Garden (MSG Network).
NCAA Bubble Watch: BIG EAST By The Numbers
In assessing the young Red Storm's NCAA Tournament chances, the following is a breakdown of success by total wins for BIG EAST teams (following the BIG EAST Tournament) since the first year of the league's automatic bid (1982-83).
17 overall wins -- 167 of 209 teams reached the NCAA (79.9 percent)
18 overall wins -- 161 of 189 (85.2 percent)
19 overall wins -- 145 of 160 (90.6 percent)
20 overall wins -- 147 of 152 (96.7percent )
In 2011-12, nine of 11 BIG EAST teams with at least 17 wins after the BIG EAST Tournament reached the NCAA Tournament, with only Pitt and Seton Hall failing to qualify. Eight of the nine 20-win teams made it (Seton Hall missed).
Taking a look at conference win totals, only two teams since the 2005-06 BIG EAST expansion -- and eight in league history -- failed to be selected for the NCAA Tournament after mounting a 10-win campaign. Pitt in 1996-97, Providence in 2008-09 and Villanova in 1993-94 were all NIT teams after going 10-8 in league play.
Seton Hall in 2002-03 and Syracuse in 2001-02 and 2006-07 both were in the NIT after posting a 10-6 conference record.
Villanova in 1991-92 and West Virginia in 1996-97 were NIT teams after going 11-7.
USF comes into Wednesday's matchup at 10-15 and 1-12 in the BIG EAST. Despite the Bulls' last-place standing, five of the team's 12 losses have come by single digits and USF was able to take down a Georgetown team now ranked No. 11/11, 61-58 in Tampa on Jan. 19. The Bulls, who have an RPI of 127, are looking to snap an eight-game losing streak.
Statistically, USF is the lowest-scoring team in the BIG EAST, averaging 59.2 points per contest, but allows just 62.6 points per game, sixth-best in the conference.
Redshirt junior Victor Rudd is the Bulls' leading scorer at 11.2 points per game in conference play. Sophomore point guard Anthony Collins is one of the top passers in the league, ranking sixth in BIG EAST play with 5.2 dimes per contest.
Head coach Stan Heath is in his sixth season at the helm in Tampa, posting an 83-16 record and leading the Bulls to the 2012 NCAA Tournament. In his 12-year coaching career, Heath has led his teams at Arkansas and USF to four NCAA Tournament Appearances and five postseason appearances.