QUEENS, N.Y. -
Two of the remaining undefeated teams in the nation collide in South Beach as the Red Storm men's basketball squad (4-0) plays its first road contest of the 2007-08 season on Sunday. St. John's faces Atlantic Coast Conference foe Miami (6-0) at 4 p.m. at the Hurricanes' BankUnited Center in a contest televised nationally on FOX Sports Net. Tim Brando and Mike Gminski call the action, while Jenn Hildreth reports from the sidelines. The game will also air via tape-delay on Bloomberg Radio (1130-AM) with announcers Ralph Bednarczyk and Tarik Turner, and the live radio broadcast can be accessed at www.wfan.com. GameTracker live stats will be available at RedStormSports.com.
The Red Storm enters the contest on a four-game win streak, marking its first 4-0 start since the 2002-03 season, and its first four-game victory streak since a seven-win stretch in 2006-07. The Red Storm posted seven-consecutive victories over a one-month span from last Nov. 28 to Dec. 28, marking the longest win streak of Roberts' tenure. A win on Sunday would give St. John's only its second 5-0 start in the last 13 seasons (2002-03).
St. John's earned its fourth victory of the year in a scrappy affair on Wednesday night, grinding out a 68-56 win over local squad LIU. Rookie forward Justin Burrell's third-straight double-double (19 points, 12 rebounds) helped the Red Storm overcome a tough first-half shooting performance, and classmate D.J. Kennedy contributed 18 points and nine boards. Sophomore Larry Wright totaled 10 points, and senior floor general Eugene Lawrence chipped in six points, four boards and four steals.
Anthony Mason Jr., the Red Storm's returning scoring and rebounding leader, made his first appearance of the season on Wednesday against the Blackbirds, but re-injured his left ankle after scoring four points with three rebounds in 20 minutes. The junior tri-captain was sidelined for St. John's first three games of the season with a high ankle sprain. Mason Jr.'s x-rays were negative and he has been receiving ice and compression therapy, along with doctor examinations every other day.
St. John's holds a 16-12 advantage in the all-time series against the Hurricanes, who were a member of the BIG EAST Conference from 1991-2003. The Canes' unblemished early season record includes a 64-58 win over Providence in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off title game.
One of the youngest teams in NCAA Division I men's basketball, the St. John's roster contains seven scholarship freshman, one redshirt freshman, and one sophomore -- meaning 69.2 percent of Red Storm's scholarship players are underclassmen. St. John's seven-man recruiting class was recognized with a Top 30 national billing by recruiting services.
After four games, the "Magnificent Seven" that make up St. John's freshman class has made its presence felt, accounting for 180-of-308 points (58.4 percent), 114-of-162 rebounds (70.4 percent) and 504-of-800 total minutes (63.0 percent).
Eugene Lawrence, the senior floor general, led all BIG EAST players in assists in 2006-07 at 5.6 per game. The fourth-year starter, who has experience at either of the guard positions, is now fifth on St. John's all-time career assists chart with 434, seventh on the all-time steals list with 154, and seventh on the all-time 3-pointers chart with 103. Lawrence needs 16 assists to move into fourth among St. John's all-time assist leaders and pass Chris Mullin, who totaled 449 from 1981-85.
Lawrence has dished 24 assists with only five turnovers in the first four games to rank second among all BIG EAST players in assist-to-turnover ratio, and his 6.0 assist per game average ranks third. Lawrence also owns a 12.0 ppg scoring average on the year, ranking fourth on the Red Storm squad.
Sophomore guard Larry Wright has packed on 13 lbs of muscle in the offseason and brings a more aggressive, more confident game to the floor in 2007-08. The sharpshooter who led the Red Storm in 3-point percentage as a freshman last season (.431) has shown an affinity for taking to the hoop one year later, averaging a team-leading 15.8 points per game. Still a prolific shooter, Wright has drilled 12-of-21 (.571) 3-point attempts, contributing to an 22-of-39 (.564) overall mark from the floor. He currently is second in the league in 3-point shooting and is tied for third with 3.0 made 3-pointers per game.
Heralded freshman Justin Burrell leads a freshman trio of frontcourt players, having notched back-to-back-to-back double-doubles with 19 points and 12 rebounds vs. LIU (Nov. 28), 15 points and 14 boards against FDU (Nov. 25) and a 15-point, 11-board effort against Sacred Heart (Nov. 20). Burrell ranks 16th in the BIG EAST in scoring at 15.3 ppg, currently second to only Syracuse's Donte' Greene among league rookies. He is the conference's top freshman rebounder at 9.8 rebounds per outing (fifth overall), and also ranks among league leaders in blocked shots and minutes played.
Freshman D.J. Kennedy has stepped into a starting role with Anthony Mason Jr.'s early-season injuries, and currently is second on the squad and is tied for seventh in the league in rebounding (9.5 per game). Kennedy is third on the team in scoring (13.0 ppg) and second in minutes played (30.5 per game). Fellow newcomer Paris Horne continues to give the Red Storm extremely productive minutes off the bench, averaging 8.0 ppg and 3.8 rebounds in 23.3 minutes.
The third tri-captain, Lithuanian center Tomas Jasiulionis, drew starts in the first three games totals 10 points, 10 rebounds and is tied for the team lead with six blocks. The ever-improving 6-11 junior started 10 games a season ago.
Freshman point guard Malik Boothe has added speed and court-vision to the Red Storm roster, and he is averaging 6.0 points and 4.0 assists in the last two games. Roberts has the ability to use Boothe and Lawrence in the backcourt for a smaller, quicker lineup.
The Red Storm then has a 12-day break for final exams before playing host to fellow Vincentian school, Niagara of the MAAC, at Carnesecca Arena on Dec. 15.
A Few For The Road
Including St. John's Super Bowl Sunday win at Cincinnati on Feb. 4, 2007, the Red Storm owns four road victories since the dawn of the Norm Roberts Era, and the key has been outstanding defense.
On Super Bowl Sunday 2007 (Feb. 4), the Red Storm held Cincinnati to 33.3 percent shooting from the field and 26.7 percent shooting from 3-point range for a 73-64 St. John's victory -- the first conference road win of the 2006-07 season. The Red Storm also got the best of the Bearcats on the glass, 34-32, and was aided by UC's 59.3 percent shooting performance from the free throw line.
In an 86-64 victory at Niagara on Dec. 9, 2006, the Red Storm limited the Purple Eagles to 32.8 percent shooting for the game, and 33.3 percent from long range. In the second half, St. John's allowed Niagara 21.9 percent field goal shooting and 21.4 percent from downtown. Anthony Mason Jr. stepped in to hold Niagara's leading scorer, Clif Brown, to three second-half points after Brown scored 20 in the first period. Mason Jr. volunteered for the defensive assignment at halftime.
The Red Storm "D" was critical in St. John's second road win of the 2005-06 season, a 54-51 victory at Rutgers on Feb. 15, 2006. The Red Storm limited the Scarlet Knights to 51 points -- 19.4 below their scoring average. The St. John's defense also held Scarlet Knight prolific scorer Quincy Douby to 23 points on 8-of-23 shooting and 3-of-12 from long range.
St. John's 68-49 victory over then-conference newcomer South Florida on Jan. 14, 2006, was a key win as part of Roberts' rebuilding process for the St. John's basketball program. In fact, for the Red Storm it was like getting a huge monkey -- or as Roberts said "a gorilla" -- off its back. The victory over the Bulls marked not only the first BIG EAST win and the first road win of the 2005-06 season, but it was also the first road win and first BIG EAST road win of the Roberts Era. Defense keyed the victory, as St. John's held USF to 34.5 percent shooting and limited the Bulls' leading scorer, James Holmes (19.0 ppg) to four points on 1-for-14 FGs.
Prior to the win at USF on Jan. 14, 2006, St. John's had not won a road game since Nov. 29, 2003, at Stony Brook (2003-04 season), and a BIG EAST road game since March 8, 2003, at Miami (2002-03 season). Roberts and the Red Storm's victory on the road ended a stretch of 25 consecutive road losses and 17 conference losses away from home.
The Series Vs. Miami
St. John's holds a 16-12 advantage all-time over the Hurricanes in a series that dates to Jan. 3, 1963, when the then-Redmen fell, 67-59, at home. St. John's is 4-6 on the road in the series, but scored a victory in its last trip to Coral Gables: 76-73 on March 8, 2003.
In that contest six seasons ago, then senior guard Marcus Hatten scored a game-high 27 points, finishing the season with a 23.0 ppg scoring average. Then-freshman guard Elijah Ingram contributed 23 points, while UM's Darius Rice had 26 and James Jones 18.
St. John's has won seven of the last 10 matchups with Miami, with two of those wins coming on the road and one in the 1999 BIG EAST Tournament semifinal round at Madison Square Garden .
The last meeting between the two schools came on Jan. 14, 2004 -- a 70-64 Miami victory at then-Alumni Hall on the St. John's campus. Hurricane guard Robert Hite led all scorers with 18 points, and the Red Storm committed 19 costly turnovers. Grady Reynolds and Ingram each had 16 points for St. John's, while Daryll Hill scored 14.
The Hurricanes are is 6-0 on the season, with three victories at home wrapped around three victories in winning the 2007 O'Reilly Auto Parts ESPNU Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Miami downed Marist (Nov. 15, 85-61), VCU (Nov. 16, 69-63) and Providence (Nov. 18, 64-58) en route to the early-season event's title.
All-ACC junior guard Jack McClinton leads the Hurricanes in scoring at 14.3 ppg, though he missed the last two contests with a sprained thumb. Senior center Anthony King (11.5 ppg), sophomore guard James Dews (11.0 ppg) and junior swingman Brian Asbury (10.8 ppg) also score in double-figures. King averages a team-leading 9.7 rebounds per game, and posted a 14-point, 12-board double-double in Miami's most recent win over Alabama State (Nov. 28, 83-74).
As a team, Miami averages 76.7 ppg and 43.0 rpg. The Hurricanes hit at a 44.2 percent clip from the field and at a 44.9 percent mark from 3-point range. Miami has allowed its opponents 61.3 ppg and 35.2 rebounds per outing.
Head coach Frank Haith was introduced as Miami's 11th head men's basketball coach in April 2004, and has since ushered Miami into ACC (2004), guided UM to back-to-back postseason appearances in 2005 and 2006, posted nine wins over nationally-ranked opponents and became the first Miami coach honored as the National Association of Basketball Coaches District Coach of the Year (2005), as well as being named a finalist for the Naismith National Coach of the Year Award (2005). He owns a 51-49 record in four seasons, all at Miami.