Wednesday, October 26, 2011

St. John's Young Guns Begin Era With Impressive Win

The most anticipated St. John's basketball team in over a decade took to the floor at Carnesecca Arena and brought in a new era of pride after beating C.W. Post 110-80 last night in an exhibition game.   The Red Storm looked pretty impressive considering three of their 10 scholarship players weren't playing due to academic ineligibility.

The highly-rated recruiting class is filled with so much young talent, it's hard to say—after one game— who to deserves the most praise.

Every one of these players have their eyes on one day playing professionally but there is a sense that—for now— they know how to share the wealth.  Six players finished the game scoring in double figures.

What the St. John's team lacks in size, they make up with incredible athletic skills.  The rangy, young talent—wait until their bodies fill out—can run the floor with the best of them.

St. John's head coach Steve Lavin—who missed the game while recovering from prostate surgery—has assembled an unrelenting offensive machine.  When— and if— JaKarr Sampson, Norvell Pelle and Amir Garrettt return around Christmas time, Lavin might have more gifts than he can open.

Speaking of gifts, God's Gift Achiuwa (21 points, nine rebounds) looks like a real bruiser.  The muscular 6-foot-eight power-forward can run baseline to baseline like a guard and is a defensive and offensive match-up nightmare under the basket.  Achiuwa looked like a man among boys and started the game with 10 points in the first seven minutes.

Swing forward Moe Harkless (14 points, 14 rebounds), the highest rated New York high school player since Ron Artest to play for St. John's, is a high-flying board hoarder, while Nurideen Lindsay (16 points, 7 assists) can take the shot as well as dish them out.

The rest of the team just put on a scoring clinic and exploded for a 36-point lead at one time in the second half.

Combo guard Phil Greene (20 points, 4-of-6 3-pointers) looked like the floor leader and was joined in the backcourt by shooting guard D'Angelo Harrison (20 points, 4 assists).

While C.W. Post is no UConn, it still took advantage of the Red Storm's deficiencies on defense.  Mike Dunlap, who took over at the helm for the recovering Lavin, wasn't oblivious to the problem.

"We're a new unit and were trying to figure out who we were," said the interim coach.  "We know we need to do a better job on the defensive end."

The team speed and athleticism will only go so far when St. John's starts banging bodies with the giants of the Big East.  The smaller C.W. Post team battled to a 36-36 tie on the boards and that won't lead to wins in January and February.

St. John's gave up too many easy shots while C.W. Post's All-American Stefan Bonneau scored a game high 28 points and was 5-of-9 from the 3-point arc.

In their debut, St. John's fouled the Pioneers early and often and looked slow in transition during the first half.  Call it opening night jitters.  The inexperienced—but talented— Red Storm made it apparent that they were playing for the first time together and their game appeared skittish but effortless. 

What St. John's lacked in first-half D, they made up with a second-half O.  The 110 point total was the most points scored by the Red Storm since 115 vs. Niagara on Jan. 4 1999 and, as a team,  finished the game shooting 65.8% (50-for-76).  They also doled out 24 assists and forced 19 turnovers.

It's too early to put a label on this Red Storm team but, if last night was any indication, there are a lot of stars in the making and they are going to be a fun bunch to watch.

Last season, Lavin's first year in Queens,  St. John's surprised everyone by making the NCAA tournament for the first time since the last McRib.  He did it with a veteran bunch of over-achieving seniors.

This year, Lavin comes in with his team, the third-rated recruiting class in the nation and high hopes on the St. John's campus.  The Big East coaches picked the Red Storm to finish 12th in the league.  Last night, the young Storm looked a lot better than that.

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