Kennedy the star in opener

November 15, 2008

In their first game of 2008, the Red Storm proved they can do it without Anthony Mason, Jr.

The superstar forward was held to just six points on 2-5 shooting and 0-6 from three-point range in the Red Storm’s 73-63 opening win against Long Island University last night. The performance wasn’t totally unexpected, as Mason had missed a great deal of practice this week due to injury.

“We thought he’d be a bit rusty,” head coach Norm Roberts said.

D.J. Kennedy shined in Mason’s offensive near absence. He exploded for 23 points, a breakout performance that shocked the 4,914 people in attendance for opening night at the newly-renovated Carnesecca Arena.

“He is one of the hardest working players I’ve ever been around,” Roberts said. “Every day after practice he’s in the gym trying to become the best basketball player he can be. He deserves a performance like this. He certainly puts the work in.”

Sean Evans recorded his first-career double-double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, including four of the Storm’s 13 on the offensive end. He found plenty of opportunity offensively due to LIU’s double and triple-teams of Justin Burrell, who still managed to finish with 14 points and four rebounds.

Malik Boothe had a solid all-around night of his own, scoring six, rebounding six, and dishing five assists in 33 minutes.

But when Boothe retreated to the bench, St. John’s point guards found trouble, as TyShawn Edmondson received two personal fouls and didn’t take a shot in just two minutes of play, and at times the Red Storm even used Mason and Kennedy to handle the ball.

“Malik’s going to play a lot of minutes for us, but our other guys should stay confident and know that they’ll have other opportunities,” Roberts said.

The Red Storm took advantage of Long Island’s mistakes, forcing 18 turnovers which led to 19 points. The Red Storm played a run-and-gun style of offense following turnovers that resulted in 12 fast-break points.

Yet St. John’s had little answer for the scoring ability of LIU’s Kyle Johnson, who shot 4-6 from the field, and finished with a team-high 23 points in 37 minutes. St. John’s used a plethora of defenders to try and stop him, but found little success.

“We did a good job [on defense] in spurts,” Roberts said. “We’ve got to finish the game better. We need a killer instinct.”

The Red Storm got out to a 12-point lead early in the first half, but missed shots and quick fouls shortened the lead to four nearly three minutes later. The Blackbirds also scored two quick baskets to start the second half, and cut the lead 36-33. But after a Paris Horne steal and a Sean Evans layup to put the Red Storm ahead 53-38, St. John’s put to rest any potential for a comeback.

LIU also took advantage of a poor shooting night for the Red Storm by preventing passes into the post and challenging them to take more jump shots. As a team, St. John’s shot an overall 39 percent from the field and only 17 percent from three-point range, something that Roberts assures will improve.

“We shoot a lot in practice,” Roberts said. “We’re going to shoot the ball better.”

Roberts didn’t necessarily think his team took bad shots, but couldn’t take advantage of what the defense presented them. “When you have an open 15-footer coming off a screen, you have to take it,” Roberts said.

Kennedy felt the same way. “We’ve got to do a better job of knocking [shots] down,” he said.

The Red Storm next travel to Boston College for the 2008 Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off tournament, but knows they still has plenty of room for improvement. Roberts and Kennedy both indicated that the team is not playing its best basketball, but has enough time to make the necessary adjustments.

“We know how much harder we need to work to reach our potential,” Kennedy said