Leave it to a veteran coach, Mike Anderson and a veteran player, Mustapha Heron, to lend some perspective to a 30-point season opening win.
“It took a lot of preparation and hard work for us to get here”, Anderson said following his team’s 109-79 trouncing of Mercer at Carnesecca Arena last night, but he added quickly that “….there’s still lots of work to do”.
Moments earlier senior leader Heron expressed similar thoughts noting that Anderson’s quickly paced style was both “hard to play” and “a lot of fun”. As opening nights go this was indeed lots of fun.
The guys who figure to lead the way for the Johnnies this season, Heron and junior forward L.J. Figueroa did just that, scoring 25 and 18 points respectively. They combined with Graduate transfer Nick Rutherford put an early stamp on the game and, with the help of a couple of surprises, maintain and extend the 21-point half time margin they built.
A pair of sophomores who barely played last season, center Josh Roberts and forward Marcellus Earlington, were able to build on strong pre-seasons. Roberts finished with 9 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks while he played his role as a rim running, screening and rolling, and in his words, “dump off catching” center to perfection.
Earlington provided the biggest surprise of the game after appearing in just 15 games last season, averaging a shade less than 4 minutes per contest and making his high school reputation playing football not basketball for perennial New Jersey power Don Bosco Prep. Statistics tell this part of the game story to be sure, 17 points on 7-13 shooting and 5 rebounds, but the eye test matters here also. Not only did he bring the energy and hustle a fan might expect from an athlete who was a high end football recruit, but, for lack of a better phrase, he looked like a basketball player; moving without the ball, catching the ball in shooting position on both his 3-point tries, and scoring an early field goal with a strong right handed drive followed by a lefthanded finish.
As both Anderson and Heron noted the play of Earlington and Roberts along with fellow sophomore Greg Williams is important to watch as the team tries to build depth for the basketball gauntlet that is the Big East Conference.
The tests that the rest of the schedule brings will be difficult, and are the reason why coach Anderson sprinkled praise for his team’s effort and execution with caution. It was certainly a good beginning; one fans hope they can build on.
Notes And Observations: Former St. Francis College and Jefferson High guard Rasheem Dunn remained out while the NCAA continues to determine his eligibility status, which for now is on appeal following a ruling that would force him to lose a year of playing eligibility and leave him with only one year remaining. If I may do a bit of editorializing here the NCAA is essentially holding a kid who’s done everything right out of games because an athletic director who fired the coach who recruited him refuses to support his transfer. Instead of penalizing the young man, let’s hope the NCAA holds the adults responsible and gets this right. N.C. State transfer Ian Steere continued to sit out following last year’s mid-season transfer to St. John’s. He reportedly will sit out 11 games.
A word of thanks to the sports information department at St. John’s for offering an N.B.A. style box score, complete with plus minus stats, hustle stats that note blocks and steals and statistics for “fouls drawn” and “blocks against”. Thank you and well done. .