Johnnies avoid upset, look to conference play 1

Vince Cole puts the Red Storm ahead with a free throw in the final minutes against Rider as the cardboard cutouts at Carnesecca Arena look on.

The Red Storm must have been thankful that they can’t be heckled by cardboard cutouts as Rider, picked to finish last in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, took a double-digit lead at Carnesecca Arena Tuesday.

“I keep saying it every time I get here; it is the year 2020, expect the unexpected,” Red Storm head coach Mike Anderson said after his Johnnies battled back for an 82-79 victory.

Vince Cole scored 12 of his 26 points in the final two minutes and 45 seconds as St. John’s avoided a stunning upset.

His heroics were reminiscent of opening night when he drained a three-pointer in the final seconds to beat St. Peter’s.

But Cole noted something was missing Tuesday from the Red Storm.

“Energy, energy, was the one thing that we were lacking,” he said. “Flat, that’s one of the words [Anderson] used. We came out real flat and we were just slow on the energy part today.”

As is typical with an Anderson-coached team, most of the roster is seeing playing time. Nine players are averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Six are averaging at least eight points per game, with Julian Champagnie at the top with 22 per game.

Champagnie scored 18 points in Tuesday’s victory and Marcellus Earlington scored a season-high 16 points, making seven of his eight shots.

The Johnnies are off to a 5-1 start but the schedule is about to become more difficult as Big East play begins Friday with a matchup with Seton Hall.

“Ready or not, here it comes,” Anderson said. “We are in the family now. The sense of urgency goes up probably about 20 notches and so our guys have got to be able to do that.”

Cole said he doesn’t believe that the Johnnies need to play a bigger-name opponent in order to bring more energy.

“We look at every game as an important game,” he said. “The game you’re playing right now is the most important, we don’t look at the next game or the game after that.”

St. John’s was selected to finish ninth in the Big East preseason coaches’ poll. The conference expanded from 10 teams to 11 with the University of Connecticut returning to the Big East. Only DePaul and Georgetown were predicted to finish lower than the Johnnies.

The first four conference games have been scheduled, with the remaining 16 to be determined later as teams navigate the Covid-plagued season.

“I said it last time, we have still got a lot of work to do, and one of the things it takes to be one of the better teams in our conference in consistency,” Anderson said. “You have to be consistent in what you bring, day in and day out.”

Cole said the team knows it can play better than it did against Rider, citing energy and effort.

“Going into conference play, that is what we need to provide: a lot of effort and a lot of energy and that’s our brand, that’s what we do,” he said.

In recent seasons, the Red Storm often burst out of the gate against weaker opponents and fell back to earth against tough Big East opponents. With energy and effort, they’re looking to avoid a repeat.


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