Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Pitino "Really proud" Of Sensational St. John's Win To Open Big East Play


Daniss Jankins burying a three-pointer in the opening minute that set the tone. Photo by Jason Schott.

The St. John's Red Storm had a sensational performance, which featured stifling defense, in a dominant win over Xavier, 81-66, at Carnesecca Arena on Wednesday night in the opener of Big East Conference play.

Joel Soriano led the way for St. John's (8-3 overall, 1-0 Big East), as he had a double-double with 18 points on 7-13 from the field, with 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive end, with five rebounds. Nahiem Alleyne had 15 points (6-11 FG, 0-2 three-pointers), with four rebounds and two assists. Chris Ledlum had 13 points (4-11 FG, 2-5 threes), with six rebounds and three assists.

The St. John's defense had by far its best performance of the season, as they held Xavier to just 34.9 percent shooting, as they made 22 of their 63 shot attempts, on the night, and that includes 29.4% (10-34) in the second half. Xavier was a dismal 19 percent from behind the arc, as they made just four three-pointers on 21 attempts.

St. John's jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the opening one minute and 41 seconds, and they never looked back in a game in which they led wire-to-wire.

The closest Xavier got, if it can be termed that way, was three points, at 20-17, halfway through the first half.

The Red Storm then got five straight points in a row from Glenn Taylor, Jr. on a three-pointer and a layup to go back up eight

St. John's would maintain a six-to-eight point lead the rest of the opening frame. Jordan Dingle closed the first half with an explanation point, as he drained a jumper as time expired to have St. John's take a 44-36 lead into the half.

Jordan Dingle taking the jumper he made to end the first half. Photo by Jason Schott.

The second half was more of the same, as St. John's opened it with a 9-2 edge to go up 53-38 on a Soriano layup at the 16:12 mark. 

Incredibly, that lead basically held up, as Xavier was only able to cut it to 10, at 64-54, with 6:49 left. St. John's responded with an 8-2 run capped by a Dingle jumper with 4:09 left to make it 72-56, and that essentially sealed the win.

Joel Soriano taking the hook shot that put St. John's up 15 points early in the second half.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the big win, and he opened with this statement: "I'm really proud of our guys, the way they prepared. I basically told them that we were going to play some zone, which we haven't. It's imperative that we mix it up and play zone. I also told them that I've known [Xavier Head Coach Sean Miller] since he was nine years of age and he is one of the premier coaches in the nation. I've always felt he was a great coach from a great family. We knew because their pace was so good. They are also a gigantic assist team. Tonight, our defense held them to eight assists on 4-for-21 from the three. We did a fabulous job on their great three-point shooter [Quincy Olivari], who has been on fire, and he was 0-for-2. Great defensive night by all the guys...I'm really proud of all the guys, good win. In this league, you've got to win your home games."

On the Red Storm's improved defense: "We knew coming into this year that there were two guys who could defend. Nahiem (Alleyne) and Daniss (Jenkins). No one else could defend. We are trying to make all of thenm defensive players in the system...We are pressing very well and we have pressed very well throughout the year. Tonight, the half-court defense was better because we mixed in the zone and it made our man defense better. I think Jordan [Dingle] is getting much better defensively. We still have a long way to go with Joel because tonight he didn't get up on screens enough, but you get 18 [points] and 14 [rebounds] from him, it's nit picking to talk about anything like that, so I can't say enough about his great play, his great hands, great rebounds, great finishes."

On if their performances in the win against Fordham Saturday and in this victory are a turning point for the St. John's defense: "I think defintely. I was really discouraged by our defense and rightfully so. We recruited four scorers who didn't guard, then throw in Joel and Drissa [Traore]. They had to be taught how to play defensively as well. Joel got himself in great shape and he moves his feet. Drissa is giving us great minutes off the bench. Everyone is improving and they are enjoying the improvement. Just like Jordan Dingle, I mean he is getting better and better, and he knows now that if he wants playing time, he has to guard just like he can score. He has turned the corner on that."

On Nahiem Alleyne starting against Xavier: "Like I said, it's all based on practice. Nahiem has had some very poor practices and didn't deserve to start. Then, Nahiem had two great practices where Simeon Wilcher had two highly poor practices, so we reward the guys with how they practice. That's the only way you can do it here because you can't base it on what someone does at VMI or Penn. You can't base it on that, you must base it on practice. Now of course, Daniss [Jenkins] and some of the other Iona guys, I know what they can do so it's a little easier, but Nahiem played a great game. He is very important to us with his defense. He is highly intelligent and I'm really happy for him."

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