QUEENS, N.Y. -
Winners of 11 of the last 15 games overall and 10 of the last 13 in-conference to earn a share of third place in the final BIG EAST standings, head coach Steve Lavin and the St. John's basketball team (20-12, 10-8 BIG EAST) make their third postseason appearance in the last four seasons in 2014, earning a second-straight berth in the Postseason NIT. The Red Storm makes its national-record 29th appearance in the nation's oldest postseason tournament beginning on Tuesday, March 18 at 7 p.m. with a First Round matchup against Robert Morris (21-13, 14-2 NEC) of the Northeast Conference at Carnesecca Arena in Queens. The contest will air nationally on ESPNU, with announcers Dave Pasch and Tim Welsh. The tilt can be heard live on the official radio flagship of the IMG St. John's Basketball Network, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, and on RedStormSports.com (subscription), with John Minko and Brandon Tierney.
Playing its best basketball of late, the Red Storm is a combined 8-3 in February/March to post its second 20-win season under Lavin (2010-11, 21-12). St. John's 10 BIG EAST wins and third-place finish were also its best since the 2010-11 campaign (12-6, tied for third), Lavin's first year on the SJU sidelines. The Red Storm has already amassed its second-most non-vacated wins since 1999-2000 (25-8, NCAA Second Round; 2010-11: 21-12, NCAA First Round).
St. John's owns a current RPI of 68, with the 49th-toughest schedule in the nation (14-4 home; 4-5 road; 2-3 neutral). St. John's has posted six wins vs. the RPI Top 100 to date, including a 70-65 victory over current RPI No. 10 squad Creighton on Feb. 9 at The Garden.
The Red Storm has amassed an 8-1 record on campus in 2013-14 headed into its First Round NIT matchup. Now in its 53rd season, St. John's is 443-83 (.842) all-time in 526 games at Carnesecca Arena, with a 27-5 (.844) mark during The Lavin Era.
A 2014 All-BIG EAST First Team selection, D'Angelo Harrison became the 48th player in St. John's history to reach the 1,000-point plateau last season (eighth-fastest, 57 games). Harrison is now 10th in St. John's history with 1,592 career points, 11 away from the legendary Tony Jackson (ninth, 1,603 points, 1959-61). He currently ranks third in the BIG EAST, and tied for 96th nationally, at 17.7 points per game. Harrison is third among conference players with an 86.1 percent mark at the free throw line, his 1.9 3-point field goals per game ties him for ninth, his 36.5 percent success rate from long-range ranks 15th and his 4.9 rebounds per game tie for 19th. The Dec. 23 BIG EAST Player of the Week and 15-time BIG EAST weekly award honoree is St. John's all-time career 3-point leader with a record of 195.
The 2013 BIG EAST Rookie of the Year and a 2013-14 Preseason All-BIG EAST Second Team selection, sophomore JaKarr Sampson averages 12.9 ppg (17th in the league) and is the Red Storm's leader in rebounding (6.2 rpg, seventh in the BIG EAST). His season field goal percentage of .497 is ninth among all BIG EAST players. He is shooting 52.9 percent from the floor in the past 16 games (11-5 record), while averaging 14.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.
Lone freshman Rysheed Jordan, the 2013-14 BIG EAST All-Rookie team selection and four-time BIG EAST Rookie of the Week, is averaging 9.7 points and leading the squad in assists with 88 (3.0 per game, T-12th in the BIG EAST; 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio, T-11th) and steals with 1.2 per game (tied for ninth in the league). In BIG EAST play, those numbers surged to 11.2 points, 3.4 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 30.1 minutes per contest.
Motor City junior Sir'Dominic Pointer has earned the nickname "Costco" from Lavin for his ability to provide whatever the team needs, and is averaging 6.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.1 blocks. The Dec. 9 BIG EAST Honor Roll member paces the squad in total thefts (39, T-ninth in the BIG EAST).
A game-changing shotblocker, 6-9 Chris Obekpa -- the National Defensive Player of the Year candidate with the 7-5 wingspan -- is the BIG EAST leader and ranks tied for 17th in the nation in rejections with a 2.9 blocks per game average. Last season, Obekpa paced the NCAA with 4.03 bpg, established a new single-season St. John's and BIG EAST freshman mark with 133 rejections, and swatted a school-record 11 shots in the victory vs. Fordham (Dec. 8, 2012). Obekpa's four blocks at Xavier (Dec. 31) made him St. John's all-time leader, passing former record-holder Robert Werdann (188, 1989-92), and Obekpa now totals 224 rejections for his career. In his last 11 appearances he is averaging 5.9 ppg on 61.7 percent shooting and 5.3 rpg, to go along with 22 blocks and 11 assists.
Windy City guard Phil Greene IV is scoring at a 7.6 ppg clip and showing his ability as a dynamic playmaker after recovering from offseason hip surgery. The Nov. 25 BIG EAST Honor Roll selection has committed only 17 turnovers in 773 minutes in 2013-14, an average of one per 45.5 minutes. Greene IV scored 11 at Marquette (March 8) via a 3-for-5 effort from long-range and has now connected on a 3-pointer in 10-of-11 games.
Senior Orlando Sanchez -- whose story of perseverance over seemingly insurmountable obstacles was chronicled by ESPN.com last season -- was granted one year of eligibility from the NCAA and is averaging 7.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.8 steals. Sanchez is averaging 10.0 points and 7.5 rebounds over his four appearances since his wife, Flor, gave birth to their daughter, Ysabel, on Feb. 21 (missed Nova, Feb. 22).
Junior guard Jamal Branch has played in 30-of-32 games, starting six. He is averaging 4.5 points on 45.5 percent field goals and 2.0 assists in his last 12 appearances, including a 10-point, five-assist, one-turnover, four-rebound day vs. Butler (Feb. 18).
Harvard transfer Max Hooper -- who scored 31 points via 10 3-pointers in a SJU game in Rome, Italy, this summer -- is 18-of-43 (.419) from distance over his last 21 appearances.
The Red Storm makes its 29th (30th ***) all-time appearance in the NIT Postseason Tournament in 2014, and its second-consecutive. St. John's 29 NIT Tournament appearances are the most by any team in the national event's 77-year history.
Following a 2011 NCAA appearance under head coach Steve Lavin, the Red Storm participated in the NIT a season ago, reaching the second round courtesy of a 63-61 buzzer-beating opening-round victory at Saint Joseph's (March 19, 2013). Sir'Dominic Pointer's 12-footer with no time on the clock proved to be the difference-maker in the SJU-SJU battle before St. John's fell at Virginia, 68-50, on March 24, 2013.
Before last year's appearance, St. John's participated in 2010, a 73-71 loss at the buzzer in Memphis' FedEx Forum in what would be the final game of the Norm Roberts Era.
In 2003, the Red Storm posted a 1-13 (21-13 ***) record including a run through the Postseason NIT. St. John's defeated Boston University, 62-57, in the first round before moving on to a 73-63 victory over Virginia in the second round. The Red Storm defeated Alabama-Birmingham, 79-71, in the quarterfinals and Texas Tech, 64-63, in the semifinals to reach the title game against Georgetown, where SJU overcame the BIG EAST Conference rival, 70-67, for the NIT championship.
The Red Storm is 41-27 (46-27 ***) all-time in the NIT and has advanced to the championship game nine (10 ***) times in 28 (29 ***) chances: 2003*** (champions), 1989 (champions), 1970, 1965 (champions), 1962, 1959 (champions), 1953, 1944 (champions) and 1943 (champions).
NIT Champions In 1943, 1944, 1959, 1965, 1989, 2003 ***
1943 -- On the way to its first NIT title, St. John's just got by its opening round matchup against Rice Institute of Houston, Texas. St. John's next edged Rice in the closing seconds, 51-49. Hy Gotkin's one-hander at the buzzer proved to be the game-winner. The team then faced local rival Fordham in the semifinals. St. John's defeated the Rams 69-43 and were led by Harry Boykoff's 22 points. St. John's defeated the University of Toledo, 48-27, to capture its first National Invitation Tournament. Boykoff was named Most Valuable Player of the Tournament, scoring 56 points in the three games.
1944 -- In the first victory en route to back-to-back NIT titles, St. John's defeated Bowling Green in the quarterfinals by a score of 44-40. St. John's was led by Bill Kotsores' 15 points. Kotsores scored 15 more points against Kentucky to help the team to a 48-45 victory. St. John's won its second consecutive title with a 47-39 victory over DePaul in the championship game. Ray Wertis led the team with 12 points. Kotsores was named MVP, scoring 40 points in three games.
1959 -- St. John's defeated Villanova in the first round by a score of 75-67. St. John's was led by Alan Seiden with 25 points and Lou Roethel added 21. Tony Jackson exploded for 27 points against third-seeded St. Bonaventure in the quarterfinals, leading the team to an 82-74 victory. Roethel scored 22 and Jackson added 20 in a 76-55 win over the Providence Friars in the semifinals. St. John's took its third NIT title by defeating top-seeded Bradley 76-71 in double overtime. Seiden scored 22 and Jackson had 21 points and 27 rebounds in the game. Jackson, who was named MVP of the tournament, totaled 81 points for the four games.
1965 -- St. John's had to play both seeded teams en route to the school's fourth NIT title. In the first round, the team faced Boston College, defeating BC handily by a score of 114-92. Ken McIntyre scored 42 in the game. In the quarterfinals, St. John's played second-seeded New Mexico. McIntyre again led the team to a 61-54 victory scoring 20 points in the game. St. John's took on Army in the semifinals, and won by seven points, 67-60. In the final the team took on top-seeded Villanova, and St. John's shocked the Wildcats, 55-51. The McIntyre brothers (Ken and Rob) and Lloyd "Sonny" Dove accounted for 48 of the team's 55 points. Ken McIntyre was named MVP of the tournament. He totaled 101 points in the four games.
1989 -- St. John's received a home game in the first round against Mississippi. The team defeated Mississippi 70-67 with Jayson Williams leading the way with 25 points. St. John's once again received a home bid in the second round against Oklahoma State. The team came back from a 32-30 halftime deficit to win 76-64. Williams led all scorers with 27. The squad was then sent to Ohio State for a third round meeting. That marked the second meeting between the two teams that season. The first meeting was in the final of the ECAC Holiday Festival, when the Buckeyes beat St. John's 77-72. Once again, St. John's came from behind, erasing a 17-point deficit to send the game into overtime. St. John's won the game in overtime without its star Williams (who fouled out late in regulation) by a score of 83-80. In the semifinals, St. John's took on the University of Alabama-Birmingham. St. John's won the game 76-65, as freshman Malik Sealy and Williams each scored 17 in the game. St. John's would then have to face St. Louis University, the last obstacle in its comeback season. St. John's defeated St. Louis 73-65 to capture the school's fifth NIT title and the first for head coach Lou Carnesecca. Jayson Williams was named MVP of the Tournament.
2003 *** -- The St. John's men's basketball team entered its March 2, 2003, game with perennial national power Duke with a 12-12 record. Things weren't looking bright for the Red Storm, but, St. John's pulled off the upset, topping the Blue Devils, 72-71. Senior Marcus Hatten sealed the win with a free throw with no time left. And that free throw carried the Red Storm to win nine of its last 10 games, capping the season off with a 70-67 win over Georgetown in the NIT Championship game. The Red Storm finished the season 21-13 overall, and made what would be a difficult finish an exciting ride. A loss to Boston College in the BIG EAST Tournament quarterfinals was diminished by a bid to the NIT, where the team reeled off three-straight wins behind a raucous student cheering section at Alumni Hall -- topping Boston University, Virginia and UAB -- and advancing to Madison Square Garden for the NIT semifinals. Hatten scored 24 points and Elijah Ingram added 16 as St. John's took out Bob Knight and Texas Tech in the semifinals, advancing to face league rival Georgetown in the finals. In that game, Hatten had 22 points, Ingram added 19 and JUCO transfer Grady Reynolds -- a major player down the stretch -- scored 13 points and grabbed a career high 14 rebounds as St. John's won its sixth NIT Championship in program history.
*** -- Figure reduced due to St. John's 2003 NIT participation being vacated by the NCAA in 2006.
Scouting Robert Morris
Robert Morris is 21-13 heading into the third NIT appearance in program history (2008, 2013). The Colonials fell to Mount St. Mary's in the NEC Tournament Championship game, 88-71, on March 11. The Colonials finished the 2013-14 regular season atop the NEC with a 14-2 conference mark to earn the top seed of the NEC Tournament.
As a team, Robert Morris is shooting 43.8 percent from the field and 38.3 percent from long-range while averaging 33.1 boards and 7.1 steals per game.
The Colonials are led by the NEC Player of the Year, Karvel Anderson, who averaged 19.1 points after shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from downtown. Junior Lucky Jones was named to the All-NEC Second Team after averaging 13.5 points and 6.7 rebounds this season for the Colonials.
NEC Coach of the Year Andrew Toole is in his fourth season with Robert Morris, leading the Colonials to an 89-49 (.645) record during that time.
Tuesday's meeting marks the first-ever between the two programs.