Thursday, November 16, 2023

St. John's Takes Down North Texas To Open Charleston Classic


Daniss Jenkins fires a pass on Thursday afternoon. @StJohnsBball.

St. John's won the opener of the Charleston Classic in a fight to the finish over North Texas, 53-52, on Thursday afternoon. They will face Dayton in the Semifinals on Friday afternoon at 2 p.m., and the winner of that moves on to the championship game on Sunday night.

After St. John's 89-73 loss to Michigan Monday, their head coach Rick Pitino said, "They'll be loaded for bear against North Texas because they'll be very upset with themselves, we won't even have to raise our voices."

Pitino was quite prescient, as they raced out to a 30-20 lead at halftime.

North Texas opened the second half on a 16-7 run, and they were within a point, at 37-36, with 10:51 to go. St. John's responded with a 12-2 run capped by a pair of Daniss Jenkins free throws at the 6:02 mark to put the Red Storm up 49-38.

However, North Texas wasn't done, and they responded with a 14-2 run to go on top 52-51, and that was capped by a pair of Robert Allen free throws at the 2:00 mark.

St. John's forward Joel Soriano got to the line with 1:11 left and he buried a pair of free throws to make it 53-52, and that would be the only points scored in the final two minutes, and would be the final.

Jenkins led St. John's with 17 points on 6-for-18 shooting, including 2-for-8 from behind the arc, with five rebounds and three assists. Soriano had 11 points (3-5 FG, 1-1 threes) and 12 rebounds to give him a double-double, along with an assist. Glenn Taylor Jr. had seven points (3-9 FG, 1-4 threes), two assists, and a rebound. 

Pitino Postgame: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino gave his thoughts after the win, and he had this opening statement: "[North Texas] is the best defensive team in the nation over the last couple years. I told our guys this isn't Michigan were we have to outscore them. If you are not better than them defensively, we have no shot of winning this game. I said this is going to be played in the 50s or low 60s, and you have to be the better defensive team. Our guys were brilliant, defensively. Offensively, we made some mistakes, but [North Texas] played awesome defense. That's what I wanted out of our guys. I told them, 'Look, you guys are all from different schools and there are three things you have in common from the schools you came from. They are all well-coached, you were all leaders on the team and none of you play any defense at all. We have to come together and learn a lot from the Michigan game.' College basketball is different from the pros. It's not about who has the most draft picks. It's about who plays the best defense together, and we did tonight, and that's what won the game for us."

On Joel Soriano: "Joel knows this because I tell him all the time. The more I get on you, the more I love you. The more I ignore you the more I think you can't play. There are two things we are trying to accomplish with him; we are trying to build a winning culture and I am trying to make him a pro. Body fat is now 8% down from 14%. He moves his feet and can guard people on switches. He can shoot the three and make the three. He is evolving into something really special and I am proud of him, but I'm not going to get off of him. I'm going to stay on him and I want him to become a pro and reach his potential because I truly love him and think he is loyal and a great captain and I want him to be great."

On the importance of defense in today's game: "If we are going to reach our potential, it's going to be on defense, and our guys did it tonight. It wasn't a pretty game, but when you play North Texas, it's never going to be a pretty game. You have to win with defense and rebounding."

On Joel Soriano serving as the last line of defense: "If you are going to take away the three, you are going to get beat off the bounce. We wouldn't play like that if we didn't have him. He is the last line of defense, because we don't mind pressuring and taking away the three. In the second half, North Texas shot the three well, but in the first half they shot 18 percent from three. The best thing about Joel is he walls up and doesn't foul. He isn't just a terrific player, but he is highly, highly intelligent."

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