Red Storm Rock Their Way To 1-0



L.J. Figueroa with a chase down block in the first half of the Red Storm’s homeowner on Wednesday night.

It might be a wait-and-see kind of year for the Red Storm. But on Wednesday, they went full throttle.

St. John’s Men’s Basketball started strong and never looked back in a 109-79 win over Mercer. They outscored the Bears 40-4 on the fastbreak and forced 24 turnovers, controlling the tempo on both ends of the floor in Mike Anderson’s coaching debut.

“It’s an entertaining style of basketball,” he said. “But it’s winning basketball.” 

There was little left to decide after a dominant first half. St. John’s led from the first minute and went on separate 8-0, 8-0, and 14-0 runs to build the lead as high as 30.

L.J. Figueroa was the opening act. He was on the board with his first score of the year on a swim to the hoop. Converting near the rim is easy with a wingspan so wide, and the junior made a habit of taking it to the hole. He scored nine of the first 15 Red Storm points, including a slick up-and-under with two defenders on his trail.

His scoring slowed down, but the lanky swing guard stayed active on the defensive side. He tallied four steals and chased down a block from behind, facilitating a Marcellus Earlington bucket on the other end. 

Sensing slack to be picked up, Mustapha Heron made it rain. He was held scoreless through the first five minutes while Figueroa and freshman Julian Champagnie dashed their way to the net. Once those lanes started to fill up, Heron was left open on the outside. He knocked down four three-pointers for a team-leading 25 points.

How the rest of the lineup shakes out is still unclear. Heron and Figueroa were and will be the staples, but Anderson wasn’t shy about working his way down the bench to find other contributors — 11 different players saw minutes, including 35 points from the Red Storm reserves.

“It’s going to be somebody different each and every night,” Anderson said. “We know what Mustapha and L.J. bring to the table. But who are those other guys?”

“Game by game, hopefully, we’ll get some more answers,” he added.

Nobody made a better case for an expanded role than Earlington. His 17 points nearly matched Figueroa in half as many minutes. Off an impressive showing in the exhibition win over Queens College, the sophomore stayed strong in his 6-foot-6-inch frame to assert himself in the paint. 

Electricity on offense was fueled by an aggressive defense. Bears who slipped to the basket were met with a swarm of hands and bodies, disturbing any momentum toward the hoop. The Red Storm won the battle in the paint by 28 points, accounting for the difference.

“We played half-court, man-to-man defense with pressure … in the lanes,” Anderson said. “That led to some opportunities on the fastbreak. I thought we did a good job of attacking.”