No Rysheed Jordan, no problem.
In a team loaded with preseason favorites for end-of-the-year accolades, it was unheralded junior point guard Phil Greene who lit up the scoreboard, leading the Red Storm to a dramatic 64-54 victory over Monmouth on Nov. 22.
Normally, Greene shares the point guard position with freshman Rysheed Jordan and junior Jamal Branch. With Jordan missing the game due to suspension for an unspecified team rules violation, however, it was Greene who made the most of all 36 minutes he saw on the court.
The junior scored a game-high 22 points while shooting 75 percent from the field, as well as grabbing a season-high eight rebounds and two steals.
Fourth-year coach Steve Lavin raved about Greene’s improvement early on in the season, especially his all-important decision-making from the point guard position.
“The last two games for Phil has been impressive,” Lavin said after the game. “He’s maneuvering at a speed where he is making excellent decisions. In tonight’s game, the mind, legs and feet were working in concert to get great looks at the basket.”
Despite Greene’s monster performance, it was Monmouth that nearly pulled off a miraculous upset of the Red Storm.
In a game where Monmouth was clearly outmatched on paper, it was evident early on that the Hawks were on a mission.
Monmouth traded the lead back-and-forth with the Johnnies for most of the first half on the back of Hawks guard Justin Robinson’s strong performance. The Red Storm led by just two at the break and after found themselves trailing 40-38 after a Robinson three-pointer with 14:14 left in the game.
Monmouth wore the St. John’s defense down underneath the basket, as the Hawks outrebounded the Johnnies 44-35 for the game and scored 32 of their 54 points from inside the paint.
This didn’t stop Phil Greene and fellow junior guard D’Angelo Harrison from torching the net from long-range to put the game out of reach.
Up 51-47 with 4:25 to play, Harrison buried back-to-back three pointers, trading jump shots with Monmouth to keep the Red Storm ahead by just six points.
Phil Greene capped off the Johnnies’ dynamic late-game shooting performance by nailing a three-pointer of his own with one minute left, giving St. John’s a lead they would never relinquish.
“We lose without making those threes,” Lavin said. “It was a step in the right direction in terms of attacking the three-point line. It was one of the few bright spots tonight.”
“I was confident in my game today,” Greene added after the game. “I was wide open and I had the choice of shooting the open three.”
The Johnnies have now won three straight games since dropping the year’s opening contest to Wisconsin, but there is still plenty of room for St. John’s to grow.
In the tilts against Bucknell and Monmouth, St. John’s was unable to put away their much less talented opponents until very late in the game, which could be a troubling sign of things to come once the Johnnies begin Big East conference play against quality opponents late next month.
In those tough games against ranked opponents, the Red Storm will lean on elite shot blocking center Chris Obekpa for leadership. The sophomore recorded an eye-popping nine blocks to pad his national blocks-per-game lead, and Obekpa has now recorded 16 blocks in the last two games.
One area in which the Johnnies must improve is their discipline, as Jordan is the third player to be suspended since the end of last season. He was to return to action when the Red Storm take on Longwood on Nov. 26, but the freshman star recruit must get his off-the-court issues settled in order for the Red Storm to truly compete with the other guard-laden Big East competitors.
“We are hopeful that moving forward Rysheed will be able to meet his responsibilities and be able to rejoin our team,” Lavin said. “We have high expectations for all our student-athletes.”