|L.J. Figueroa (30) and Mustapha Heron (14) led the way. @StJohnsBball.|
St. John's rolled past Rutgers, 84-65, on Friday night in Piscataway, NJ, in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
St. John's is now 3-0 on the young season, and they will be back in action on Monday night at 7 p.m. at Brooklyn's Barclays Center in the Legends Classic against California.
Mustapha Heron led the way for St. John's with 27 points on 10-14 from the field and 4-5 from behind the arc, with 6 rebounds and 2 assists.
L.J. Figueroa continues to emerge as a key player for this team, as he had 23 points on 7-13 shooting, including 6-9 on threes, with 11 rebounds to give him a double-double, and he notched 4 assists.
Marvin Clark II had 12 points (3-8 FG, all three-point attempts), 3 rebounds, and 3 assists, while Justin Simon just missed a double-double with 10 points and 9 rebounds.
Shamorie Ponds was held to 8 points (3-10 FG, 1-5 threes), with 6 assists and 4 rebounds.
St. John's jumped out to a 15-7 lead on a Ponds jumper at the 13:31 mark of the first half, but Rutgers responded and pulled to within one, 24-23, on a three-pointer from Peter Kiss with 4:49 left.
Figueroa made a pair of threes over the next minute, and a Justin Simon three-pointer with 33 seconds left gave the Red Storm a 33-25 edge at halftime.
In the opening minutes of the second half, it was all St. John's, as Heron had back-to-back threes to open up a 14-point edge, 51-37.
They eventually built that up to 23, at 67-44, when Clark II hit a three with 8:33 remaining.
The closest Rutgers got was 15, at 74-59, when Issa Thiam made a three-pointer with 4:39 left, but St. John's responded with a 10-0 run to put the game away.
St. John’s Head Coach Chris Mullin:
On the win: “Mustapha [Heron] and LJ [Figueroa], statistically, had two really good games. I thought Justin [Simon] and Shamorie [Ponds] set the tone. They weren’t really in an offensive groove, but they were making plays for their teammates. I think that rubbed off on the whole team. When Marvin [Clark II] got into foul trouble, he wasn’t in rhythm, but when he got back in our guys made a conscious effort to get him looks. When you play a lineup like this, you have to play that way. When you play against a bigger lineup, you have to dictate tempo, be aggressive but smart on defense and rebound. I think we did a good job putting bodies on people. In the first half, it didn’t come easy. We had some open floor and forced turnovers, but I like the way that we’re playing and they stuck with it. There’s nothing like it for them to prove it to themselves. I kind of have a vision of what I want this team to look like. When we get Sedee [Keita] back, it will be different, but we’ve worked on this kind of game plan for two days really. For them to do this tonight, it will give them confidence to continue it moving forward.”
On the improved play in the second half: “The ball got a little sticky, but I think it was more of them trying to make something happen. It wasn’t them being maliciously selfish. It was just the way the game was flowing. Quite frankly, LJ hit a big three at the end of the clock to make go from two to five and then we got a stop and got out. We were making shots and there were a lot of mistakes, but I think they made a conscious effort with each other. That’s the one thing I’ve been stressing cause we haven’t been together enough. We haven’t seen that rhythm, but it really came in the second half.”
On how close his team is to playing the way he wants them to play: “As far as aggressiveness, team rebounding, shrinking the floor, helping each other out from the post or behind you, from a game plan standpoint it was really good. We were really unselfish on both sides of the floor. I thought defensively we put our bodies up and guys understood when someone was fronting or getting posted up. We have some flow when our guys rely on each other offensively.”
On learning about his team every day: “I’ve watched Mustapha all through high school, so I know him pretty well. He’s a really mature player. We talk about experience, it’s something you can’t teach. He practices like a pro. In the game, you kind of know what you’re going to get. LJ’s energy is infectious. His teammates love playing with him. He plays full throttle all throughout the game. He’ll make mistakes, which is fine, but he plays hard and does his best for the team. He prepares well. He’s an incredible offensive rebounder. He did a really good job being fundamental and boxing out when he needed to.”
St. John's junior guard Mustapha Heron:
On second half performance: “We bought into the game plan and it showed. We played how we wanted to play. It was a lot better. It felt different and more fluid. It looked and felt better. When I think about it, we’re a new team and a lot of us are coming and playing together for the first time. We have to get used to playing like that.”
On further improvements the team can make: “I think every day at practice we get a little better. Playing with each other, it shows directly during the game. Of course we’re going to make some mistakes. We’re human. I think everybody gets into their ways, and it’s easy for us to snap out of it and get back to playing good basketball when coming out of a timeout after getting a bit of a breather.”
On the impact of this win: “It’s a big step. It was our first road test of the year, so it was a huge step in the right direction and we’re looking forward to taking this into the Barclays Center on Monday.“