Fairleigh Dickinson-St. John's Preview
Sporting their first national ranking in four seasons, the No. 24 Red Storm look to continue their dominance over visiting Fairleigh Dickinson on Wednesday night.
Off to its best start since the 2009-10 team won nine of its first 10, St. John's (6-1) took a major stride by snapping Syracuse's 55-game non-conference home winning streak with a 69-57 victory Saturday.
''This is a big one for us, a big motivator," said guard D'Angelo Harrison, who scored a game-high 24 points.
That victory helped the Red Storm crack the Top 25 for the first time since they were 18th heading into the 2011 NCAA tournament.
"To receive a national ranking is certainly a benchmark for this team and program," coach Steve Lavin told the school's official website. "This is evidence that the hard work is paying off."
After earning a NIT berth the last two seasons and winning 20 games for the second time in four in 2013-14, St. John's might have the right chemistry to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since that last Top 25 showing.
Averaging a team-high 18.4 points, Harrison is one of four Red Storm players scoring at least 10.4 per contest. The four-year starter joins fellow seniors Phil Greene IV (11.7 ppg) and swingman Sir'Dominic Pointer (10.4) as the backbone of a team Lavin believes will go as far that trio can lead them.
"This group of seniors has made steady and measurable progress each year," Lavin said. "Our senior leaders have an outstanding work ethic and are determined to take the next step with a deserving finish in the postseason."
St. John's shot 37.7 percent against the Orange, but went a season-best 9 of 16 from 3-point range. Harrison and Greene, who finished with 18 points, went a combined 8 of 14 from beyond the arc.
"The team clearly has confidence in each other," Lavin said. "The balanced approach of our offense, our ability to distribute the ball to different players over the course of a game is one of our strengths."
Defensively, opponents are shooting 36.6 percent against the Red Storm, with then-No. 10 Gonzaga the only team to hit better than 45.0 percent of their shots. The Bulldogs went 27 of 51 during a 73-66 victory over St. John's on Nov. 28 in the finals of the NIT Season Tip-Off.
Junior Chris Obekpa (9.6 rebounds per game), Pointer (8.6 rpg) and Harrison (8.1) are a big reason St. John's ranks among the national leaders averaging 42.9 boards. The 6-foot-10 Obekpa is also among the nation's leaders at 3.86 blocks per contest.
Though Lavin's group is excited for the recognition that comes with a Top 25 appearance, they understand there's plenty of work to be done going forward.
"(They) realize improvement in all facets of the game is necessary, but I sense the team is looking forward to the challenges ahead," Lavin said.
The Red Storm have won all 11 meetings versus New Jersey-based Fairleigh Dickinson (3-4), but the schools haven't met since 2007.
The Knights lost for the fourth time in five games, 75-57 at Notre Dame on Saturday.
Averaging a team-high 15.6 points on the season, guard Mustafa Jones is 11 of 23 from 3-point range in the last three contests and scored 16 against the Irish.