St. John’s Struggles Against New Hampshire, But Holds On For 64-51 Win

Playing without two key rotation players, AJ Storr comes off the bench to provide a much-needed offensive jolt.

AJ Storr takes a shot in a Nov. 15 game against Central Connecticut State University.
Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan

The St. John’s Men’s Basketball team struggled to score in their return to non-conference play Saturday, Dec. 10 against New Hampshire, but a late-game push secured the 64-51 win. Three days after putting together what was arguably their best all-around performance of the season against DePaul, the Johnnies failed to execute in scoring opportunities.

“There are all kinds of ways to win games and it was a defensive struggle for both teams tonight,” head coach Mike Anderson said in a postgame media conference. “We didn’t shoot the ball well and when you don’t shoot well, you have to rely on your defense.”

The Red Storm were forced to change up their starting five, adding sophomore guard Rafael Pinzon in place of senior Montez Mathis, who was unavailable after suffering a right ankle injury against DePaul. Anderson was also without sophomore forward O’Mar Stanley, who has been dealing with a toe injury.

That led the team to get more players involved early, using nine players in the first half and making frequent substitutions. 

“We wanted to get other guys involved, because we are going to need those guys,” Anderson said, noting that stretching the Johnnies’ bench was part of the game plan against New Hampshire. “I told my guys that you always must be ready, and tonight we were able to do that.”

Just about everyone on the team — from the bona-fide starters to the deep rotation players — found difficulty knocking down shots from all areas of the court. In the first half, the Red Storm shot at a 28.6 percent clip from the field, going 10-for-35 on field goal opportunities. Beyond-the-arc shooting was as bad as it has been all season, and the Johnnies closed out the half with a single made three-pointer. 

“We just couldn’t make a shot today,” said senior center Joel Soriano, who earned his ninth double-double of the season against the Wildcats. “We just have to get better, get back in the gym and start working.” 

St. John’s strong defensive effort kept the team firmly in the game, and headed to the locker room with a narrow 25-22 lead at halftime. They disrupted New Hampshire’s offense and prevented the Wildcats from pushing ahead, holding the team’s field-goal percentage to 32.3 percent and their three-point percentage to 18.2 percent.

The Johnnies came out firing in the second half, but New Hampshire paced them step-for-step in the period’s opening minutes. Though guards Posh Alexander and Andre Curbelo had a limited impact and a poor shooting performance, other players stepped up to put together a half that saw the Red Storm make five three-pointers. 

“We got on each other,” Soriano said of the locker room atmosphere. “We took it upon ourselves to say stuff that needed to be said in the locker room, and we came out with a different mindset.”

St. John’s eventually outlasted New Hampshire with scoring bursts powered by the team’s depth. Freshman AJ Storr was Anderson’s late-game option off the bench, scoring 11 points and going three-of-four from deep. It’s the latest example of Storr proving he has what it takes to make an impact, even in his first year playing collegiate basketball. 

“We wore [New Hampshire] out and made fatigue a factor in the game,” Anderson said of the bench’s contribution to the Johnnies’ final push. “They made some shots, and then they started missing some wide-open shots.”

After another memorable outing, Storr looks to be one of the team’s top bench options as they approach the Big East Conference slate. “We have to have someone that can come off the bench and give us a scoring punch,” Anderson said. “He is picking up on some things and that’s the natural progression for a guy with his talent.”

The improved second-half offense secured the victory on a night that St. John’s faced a setback playing without two rotation players. There is no official word from the team on whether Mathis or Stanley will be available to suit up against Florida State. 

The Red Storm return to action against the Seminoles on Dec. 17 as part of the Orange Bowl Basketball Classic with tip-off set for 2:30 p.m.