I would like for Joel to outplay Clingan of Uconn in both our games this year . The slimmer , better conditioned Soriano should be able to handle Donavan . Run him up and down the Court a few times and Clingan will be raising his hand like a Hockey player looking for a shift change .
The Red Storm (2-1) had double-digit leads in both halves before holding on for a 53-52 win.
Newsday—by Roger Rubin
St. John's gritty effort on defense pleases Rick Pitino in close win
CHARLESTON, S.C. — It started last March when St. John’s hired Rick Pitino and the Hall of Fame coach vowed to return St. John’s to college basketball’s upper echelon. And then it built as, one by one, he brought in transfers who were top performers at their previous destination and coveted high school recruits. By the time this season arrived, the Red Storm was one of the most-hyped teams in the country.
They hadn’t played a game and found themselves sitting just outside the Top 25 rankings and surrounded with expectations.
For now, however, just being good enough to win on a given day has to be good enough for all concerned.
St. John’s was just good enough to beat ornery North Texas, 53-52, on Thursday in a Charleston Classic quarterfinal at TD Arena. Joel Soriano made a pair of free throws with 1:11 to play for the final points of the game and they came on the ensuing possession after the Mean Green’s Robert Allen sank one of two free throws to give them their first lead of the game.
The drama was still there when Soriano missed two free throws with 2.1 seconds left, but North Texas guard John Buggs III didn’t get a heave off before the final buzzer. Soriano finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots — including three biggies in the final six minutes — and was the biggest reason St. John’s won. Daniss Jenkins led all scorers with 17 points.
Many of the other details in the victory are unsightly. The Storm blew an 11-point lead with six minutes left. They shot just 34% for the game, including 6-for-23 on three-pointers. They committed 15 turnovers, including five by Jenkins.
Beneath all that, however, the Storm did the thing Rick Pitino demands above all else: defend.
He used the word “brilliant” to describe the defensive effort and added, “If we're going to reach our potential, it's going to be on defense and the guys did it tonight.”
The Storm players got embarrassed by Michigan at the Garden on Monday night. Pitino and his staff showed on the film how many things they did wrong in the 24 hours that followed. On Tuesday evening here, Soriano and Jenkins called a team meeting.
“Me and DJ kind of met up with the team and said, ‘What do you guys want to be? Do you want to be a mediocre team or do you guys want to win?’ ” Soriano said. “We knew that we [had] to play defense this game especially with this type of team and that's what it came down to tonight: who was the better defensive team.”
St. John’s played quick defensive rotations and ran shooters off the three-point line. North Texas shot 33% from the floor, made only six three-point shots and committed 15 turnovers.
Jenkins understands the demands Pitino requires on the defensive end from playing for him at Iona. Most of the other Storm players, who come from all over, don’t. He said the obstacle has been "more about coming together, to trust in each other and believe in each other and play team defense.”
“We really loved this win, because we showed we can play defense at a high level and now we know the standard and can hold each other to this standard,” Jenkins added. “Now we know we can do it, so we have to do it the rest of the year.”
Most of the transfers that Pitino brought in were the go-to options on their teams a year ago. The foundation of Pitino’s best teams was how they defended and he said, “We have a bunch of offensive players that we brought in and we've got to get the offensive players to play defense.”
Jordan Dingle averaged 23.4 points last season for Penn and Chris Ledlum 18.8 points for Harvard. Against North Texas they had two points and four points, respectively, and Pitino was thrilled with their play.
“For the first time those two guys played defense,” he said. “How do you be the second leading scorer in the nation and Penn loses? Harvard loses with a great player like Chris? It wasn't about defense for them. We know they can score. They played defense tonight and that's what made me happy. [But] they're going to score.”
Pitino and all the high-profile acquisitions have conjured thoughts of St. John’s earning national rankings and NCAA Tournament bids. Nothing wrong with that because there’s reason for that kind of optimism. But Pitino has said over and over that he expects this team to start reaching its potential in January or February. Thursday may not have been pretty, but it was a step in the right direction.
Maybe the Storm can take another in Friday’s 2 p.m. semifinal against Dayton.
He definitely saved our butts today. Grabbing the rebound on their last miss was just as important as the three he hit that got us on our earlier run and out of the lull (word of the day) we were in. I thank him for staying.