Tuesday, January 2, 2024

St. John's Bops Butler To Begin Big East Sprint To Finish


Joel Soriano slams one down. @StJohnsBball.

The St. John's Red Storm welcomed the new year with a rousing 86-70 win over Butler at Carnesecca Arena, colloquially known as The Lou, on Tuesday night.

The Red Storm improved to 10-4 overall, and 2-1 in Big East Conference play. They concluded the non-conference portion of their schedule when they beat Hofstra, 84-79, on Saturday afternoon at UBA Arena, so every game from here on out will be against a Big East opponent.

St. John's controlled this game from the start, as they led 45-38 at halftime. After Butler got a couple of three-pointers early in the second half, St. John's reeled off a 9-2 run capped by a pair of Joel Soriano free throws at 16:35 that put them up 56-46.

That lead would expand to 17, at 74-57, with 6:19 left when Daniss Jenkins buried a couple free throws. Butler responded with an 8-0 run, but the Johnnies would be back up 12, at 80-68, when Chris Ledlum made a layup with 2:30 left. A Nahiem Alleyne jumper with 41 seconds left really sealed it, as St. John's went up 85-70.

St. John's was led by Daniss Jenkins, who had 17 points on 6-for-12 from the field, including 1-5 on three-pointers, with seven assists and five rebounds. Joel Soriano had a double-double with 14 points (6-10 shooting) and 12 rebounds, while R.J. Luis also had 14 points (6-15 FG), with three rebounds and an assist. Chris Ledlum had a double-double with 13 points (6-10 FG, 1-3 threes), 11 rebounds, and one assist. Brady Dunlap had 13 points on 5-7 shooting, including 3-5 on threes, with a pair of rebounds off the bench.

PITINO POSTGAME: St. John's Head Coach Rick Pitino addressed the media after the rousing win, and he opened with this statement: "It was a great win for us. I hate to see [Butler Head Coach] Thad [Matta] get ejected form the game because he's a great guy and a great coach...We did some really good things and we did a lot of things we got to get better at. We still don't understand the matchup zone yet but that takes time. I thought overall we were very intelligent on offense. We didn't turn the ball over and I thought our pressure was very good as well. We did a lot of really good things. Happy with the guys. We have a big game coming up against Villanova (in Philadelphia on Saturday) and every game you get a little bit better."

On Brady Dunlap: "He practiced well, both in player development sessions as well as practice. We weren't getting rebounds from the one, two and three-spot and tonight there were a lot of loose ball rebounds we had. Brady, although he may be physically weak, he gets in there and is not afraid of contact. I wanted to play him and I wanted to certainly play [Simeon Wilcher] more, but it's very tough when [Daniss Jenkins] is such a glue guy for us that it gets tough taking him out of the game. But we did play really well without him tonight when he went out...

"We have great confidence in him. I was planning on starting him in the game, but [Chris] Ledlum was ready. If Ledlum wasn't ready, he was starting because of what he did in practice. I have the utmost confidence in him. I'm not afraid to put him in at any point in time. His stamina has to get better, but he works his butt off. He is a heck of a player. I've said that from the moment we got him. He is going to develop into a great player. I'm not going to tell you he is going to be Chris Mullin, but he is going to be a great scorer at St. John's with the likes of a Chris Mullin. He's only a freshman, but he is going to be a great one. So is [Simeon Wilcher], Sim is going to be a great one."

On his team's improvement over Big East play: "I think Joel [Soriano] is so much better than he's playing. You look at his numbers around the basket, he's like number one in the country, but he's still nowhere near his potential and that's a great thing. I think [Daniss Jenkins] is a very good shooter, he's not showing it necessarily, but he's a very good shooter. I've been with him for two years and he kills the drills, but Joel can get a lot better, [Jordan] Dingle can get a lot better. I thought [Naheim Alleyne] played a really good game tonight and I thought [Chris] Ledlum deserved a lot of credit. He's only about 70 percent back and he said, 'I'll play for you coach.' He's out of shape, he hasn't practiced and he has a tough ankle. Our trainers did a great job in getting him ready, but he gutted it out and we needed that. We are improving, we still need to get better in our matchup zone. They are starting to get scouting much better, which is a good thing."

On the environment at Carnesecca Arena: "We want to thank the crowd. The crowd was great tonight. Late in the game, the crowd was great. I'm going to miss playing at Carnesecca. It was a great crowd and we are very thankful for our fans."

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