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The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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St. John’s Narrowly Takes Down Fairleigh Dickinson, 87-74

The Red Storm uncharacteristically missed shots but edged out a victory in Queens
St. John’s warms up before the start of the second half versus Fairleigh Dickinson on Nov. 20, 2021.
TORCH PHOTO — Brady Snyder
St. John’s warms up before the start of the second half versus Fairleigh Dickinson on Nov. 20, 2021.

The St. John’s Men’s Basketball team got back in the win column against Fairleigh Dickinson Saturday night with an 87-74 victory despite losing key rotation players, scoring woes and a poor defensive effort. 

Montez Mathis opened the scoring with a level of fire and energy that one can only assume was in response to his ejection after a flagrant two foul in the team’s last game. For Mathis, it’s much simpler than that. “I just wanted to come out and try to make a statement on defense,” Mathis said in a postgame media conference. “[To] just come out and play hard.” 

That’s exactly what he did, scoring five points and forcing two steals in the first minute and a half of play. Through the first media timeout, the St. John’s defense had already forced five turnovers and surrendered none. “It’s exciting to me,” Mathis added. “I take a lot of pride on defense.”

The strong effort continued through most of the first half with the team correcting many of the troubles they faced against Indiana on Nov. 17. The bigger players on the team, led by Julian Champagnie and Joel Soriano, were driving to the basket, finishing scoring opportunities, and rebounding inside the paint. 

The game was uncharted territory for the Red Storm from the start, as it was announced prior to the game that Rafael Pinzon and Tareq Coburn were unavailable due to a finger injury and illness, respectively. St. John’s head coach Mike Anderson spoke highly of both players after the team’s last win, even going as far as to say that Coburn is going to get the minutes of a starter. 

The losses changed the way that Anderson utilized his bench, which he sees as one of the key strengths of his team. Due to Posh Alexander going to the locker room early in the first half, Anderson’s first substitute was Dylan Addae-Wusu. It was Addae-Wusu’s first game with significant usage since returning from ankle surgery, and he played over 20 minutes for the first time this season. 

Anderson only went as far as to say that Alexander is healthy, and did not disclose any information about what he was dealing with. 

The defensive intensity faded as the Red Storm struggled to score, especially from beyond the three-point line. Champagnie, the Johnnies’ leading scorer, shot just 14.3 percent from behind the arc with one made three-point basket. He was better from the inside, scoring in five of 12 chances, but overall struggled. “I couldn’t find a rhythm,” Champagnie said. “It’s just one of those days.”

Champagnie has proven that he can score at an elite level in the Big East and averaged 24.7 points per game in his three games prior to the narrow win against Fairleigh Dickinson. But without Champagnie’s best and Coburn’s shooting presence, the Knights hung around until the very end. “If you get a lead, you’ve got to put them away,” Anderson said. “We didn’t do that.” 

The entire team lost their stroke, shooting just 22.7 percent from deep throughout the game. Those struggles –– both offensively and defensively –– might have been due to fatigue resulting from the shortened rotation. Six players played the bulk of the minutes, with just two others contributing significant time on the court. “I thought we were just like a half-second off,” Anderson said. “When we made the runs, all of a sudden there was kind of a let-down [after.]”

When the fatigue set in, the team did not take the best shot available, particularly after the Johnnies’ six-point run to open the second half. “I believe we were settling for jump shots,” Anderson said. “In the second half, we came out, and we wanted to get the ball inside.” 

Anderson quickly got O’Mar Stanley up and out of his sweats after Soriano committed his second turnover of the night early in the second half. “[Stanley] came out and gave us tremendous effort,” Anderson said. With under ten minutes to play, Stanley was charged with his fifth personal foul and exited the game. “When he left, the energy level went in a different way.” 

It wasn’t all the fault of the St. John’s defense. The Knights made shots from all over the court and got better as the game went on, even in the face of strong defense pressure from the Red Storm. They finished the game with a 50 percent three-point shooting percentage and a 66.7 shooting percentage from the field. Anderson said the defensive intensity was there “at times,” but the team didn’t limit Fairleigh Dickinson’s scoring as much as they could have. 

That’s the takeaway from the narrow victory against a Fairleigh Dickinson team that entered the game winless in the early season –– the team could have, even should have played better, but still secured the win. “I don’t think we played our best basketball,” Champagnie said. “We’ll go back, and watch the film, and then come back as a group and work on what we need to work on after today’s game.”

The team does not have to be concerned about their offensive struggles tonight continuing throughout the season, especially as they regain players like Coburn as early as Nov. 23 against St. Francis Brooklyn. Pinzon is being evaluated by a specialist on Monday, and may be out longer, but Anderson got quality minutes from Alexander, Addae-Wusu and Stef Smith at the point guard position. 

The non-conference schedule, especially for such a new group like the St. John’s team, is designed to iron out these issues before the slate gets tougher. Until then, this team will have to keep playing true to its identity and the results are expected to follow. “We’re going to be able to score,” Anderson stated. 

St. John’s basketball returns on Tuesday, Nov. 23 versus St. Francis Brooklyn at 7 p.m. in Carnesecca Arena.

 

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Brady Snyder
Brady Snyder, Editor-in-Chief
Brady is a senior journalism student currently serving as Editor-in-Chief. He joined The Torch in 2021, and previously served as Sports Editor. Outside of The Torch, Brady covers consumer technology and new innovations for ScreenRant, where he has nearly 100 published articles. When he isn’t writing, Brady is usually running or catching a sporting event. Brady can be reached at [email protected]
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