The St. John’s men’s basketball team opened the 2009-10 season Friday with four newcomers, a newly-renovated home arena and a new motivational attitude, but finished with a familiar result.
Despite an attempted second-half comeback by LIU, the Red Storm defeated the Blackbirds 83-70 for the team’s sixth-consecutive home-opening win.
St. John’s led by 19 points six minutes into the second half. However, the LIU guard Jaytornah Wisseh’s 28 points dictated the pace of the game for much of the half.
Wisseh cut the Red Storm lead to seven after hitting a crucial three-pointer with 1:11 remaining in the second half. However, JuCo transfer Dwight Hardy and junior guard Malik Boothe hit six crucial free throws in the last three possessions of the game to seal the win.
Hardy, who replaced injured freshman Malik Stith as the team’s back-up point guard, scored 14 points and dished out four assists in 25 minutes as Boothe sat early with foul trouble.
With junior forward Justin Burrell in early foul trouble as well, JuCo transfer Justin Brownlee logged major minutes and finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and two steals. Freshman guard Omari Lawrence shot 3-of-five from the field and finished with seven points.
“I just do what coach tells me to do, play my game,” Brownlee said. “He told me to play hard, play defense and make plays.”
Junior forward D.J. Kennedy led the Red Storm with his team-high 16 points. Kennedy connected from downtown a career-best four times against the Blackbirds Friday.
“We worked all summer and offseason on shooting,” Kennedy said. “Last year, a lot teams played zone against us, forcing us to shoot and we didn’t shoot too well.”
The Red Storm led 50-36 at halftime thanks to shooting a shocking 8-16 (50%) from 3-point range. The Red Storm finished 10-of-28 from long distance, including a pair from both Hardy and junior guard Paris Horne.
“These guys are used to making big plays in the game,” Roberts said. “I want them all to be aggressive.”
Horne, the team’s leading scorer last year, opened the game with a three-pointer and later closed the door and rocked a packed Carnesseca Arena one last time with a thunderous fast-break dunk with 32 seconds remaining in the game.
“I think these guys are probably somewhat of higher-caliber of players than what we’ve had from the past,” Roberts said. “Brownlee was one the best JuCo players in the country, and Hardy was one of the best as well. Omari was one of the best players to come out of New York City.”
Roberts expects to see more of the same from his new four weapons and expects Stith to make his debut Tuesday against St. Bonaventure.