With plenty of pressure on the St. John’s Red Storm going into the year, they opened up the year on the right foot. After trading baskets in the opening minutes with Merrimack, the Red Storm jumped ahead and never looked back in a 97-72 win at Carnesecca Arena.
The Red Storm led by double digits for the better part of the night as they shot 57% from the field and 38% from beyond the arc in the blowout win. It was transfer forward David Jones who led the Johnnies with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting from the field, while adding 10 rebounds and four assists.
“I feel like we did a fantastic job today,” Jones said. “We came out strong. The whole team, even we played a great team themselves. They came out in the zone. They play well, we play well. We’re just going to try to continue to bring that into the next game, bring that to our next practice and hopefully we get better by then.”
Fellow transfer André Curbelo made his presence felt in his first game in a St. John’s uniform with 13 points of his own on 5-of-7 shooting, adding seven assists and a pair of steals. Montez Mathis had 16 points while shooting 3-for-4 from three-point range.
Mathis reached the 1,000th career point mark late in the second half after he knocked down a free throw with 6:15 left in the game. Star guard Posh Alexander had 14 points in the season opener for the Red Storm and Joel Soriano finished the night with 12.
The Red Storm did struggle to maintain possession of the ball during the course of the night. St. John’s turned over the ball 29 times to Merrimack.
“I thought we got sloppy. I thought we got a lead and we got real sloppy with the basketball,” Anderson said. “It ain’t about trying to blow somebody out and then so you start playing with a hurry. I thought we got quick and we were in a hurry as well, but that will be addressed. That’s something that I don’t condone ’cause we work hard to get it and not give it away.”
The season-opening victory kicks off a year where there is plenty of pressure for Mike Anderson and his team to prove that they can find some postseason success. The Johnnies are coming off a year where they were knocked out of the Big East tournament in the semis, struggled against conference opponents and didn’t reach a postseason tournament.
St. John’s was picked to finish sixth in the Big East in a preseason poll of the league’s coaches. Alexander was picked for the preseason All-Big East First team.
“My expectations were for us to win, come out and play hard and compete,” Anderson said about his expectations going into Monday. “I thought for the majority of the game I thought we did that. It’s a start against a team that came in here that had nothing to lose and everything to gain and went quick. That’s a testament to their coach and their coaching staff and their kids. Our guys were excited to play and I thought they came out and played with great, great energy defensively.
“I thought that’s where the game was won, defensively. We made some shots, but I thought our defense was really good.”
St. John’s already had a sizable lead by the time the second half had begun. Jones opened the half with a three to extend the lead to 24 and Mathis knocked down one of his own.
Jones gave the Red Storm a 28-point advantage with 17:03 left on the clock in the second half with another three.
The closest that Merrimack would get was when Jordan Derkack hit a pair of free throws with 8:34 remaining. A pair of driving layups from Soriano and Alexander put the Red Storm ahead 87-58 with 5:02 left in the game.
Monday marked the first time that St. John’s and Merrimack had faced one another. The Johnnies had defeated Northeast conference opponents in the last five meetings they’ve had with them.
It was a 39-second swing early in the first half that broke a 9-9 tie and put St. John’s in the driver’s sat. The Red Storm went on a 6-0 run that started with a Soriano jumper and then saw Alexander put up back-to-back baskets.
Transfer André Curbelo stole the inbounds pass and quickly fed Alexander for the dunk and Alexander followed it up with a steal of his own to put the Red Storm ahead 15-9.
Merrimack cut the St. John’s lead to three before Curbelo knocked down a layup, Rafael Pinzon hit a layup of his own and Alexander scored on a fastbreak. A three from Pinzon extended the Johnnies’ lead to 10 with 12:51 left in the first half.
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St. John’s continued the onslaught as they opened a 21-point lead with 7:33 left in the opening half after Mathis hit a three and forced Merrimack to call a timeout.
A few sloppy possessions with a little over five minutes to play in the half saw Merrimack cut the Red Storm lead to 13 after they went on a 6-0 run of their own. However, Soriano answered back with a pair of layups and Alexander pushed the lead to 19 with 3:57 left on the clock.