The St. John’s men’s basketball program got off to a quick 2-0 start to their 2019-20 regular season after routing a pair of overmatched opponents in a couple of Carnesecca Arena encounters.
To officially begin their regular season, the Red Storm hosted Mercer University on Wednesday, defeating the Bears 109-79. On Saturday, the Red Storm put forth another dominant effort, cruising over Central Connecticut State 87-57.
“I continue to talk about the effort of our guys going out and trying to play defense the way we work on in practice every day,” said first-year Red Storm head coach Mike Anderson following their season-opening victory. “So it's good to see them bring their practice to the game and it started with our defense.”
In both games, the Red Storm weren’t short on individual standout performances, either.
Mustapha Heron, who opened with 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting early in the weekend, recorded his first 30-point effort with the Johnnies this past weekend, pacing the team in each contest.
Against CCSU, Heron hit 6-of-7 from three, just days removed from a 4-for-6 display from beyond the arc.
“Mustapha is a guy who wants to be coached,” offered Anderson after the 30-point output. “I think he wants to get better. When I give him critiques, he responds the right way. He’s got a good basketball IQ and he embraces wanting to be a leader.
“I believe this is an opportunity for him to lead and he’s not only doing it by example, he’s doing it in the locker room,” Anderson added.
Heron voice his excitement to return as a senior after going through the NBA pre-draft process a second time. He also says dieting has helped lead to his early success.
“I think taking my body and my game a little more serious over the summer is showing in our games,” he said on Saturday. “I cut out meat and dairy processed foods. I feel a lot faster, a lot more mobile and I recover better.”
LJ Figueroa, who was also a cornerstone of the 2019 team that made the NCAA Tournament, recorded 18 points and four steals against Mercer, followed by 17 points, six rebounds and six assists on Saturday.
Marcellus Earlington, a sophomore who only saw 15 games of action last season, broke out for 17 points in 19 minutes against Mercer.
Among the team’s new roster members, Monmouth graduate transfer Nick Rutherford – the team’s starting point guard – finished with 14 points and eight assists against Mercer.
“Well Nick is a big piece of our team,” Figueroa said of his new point guard. “He’s the head of the snake, we obey whatever he says. He brings a lot of leadership.”
Among the standout freshman has been starter and Bishop Loughlin product Julian Champagnie, who recorded eight points and eight boards in his debut, followed with 10 points, eight rebounds, three steals and two blocks against CCSU.
“That was probably one of Julian’s finest performances today,” Anderson said on Saturday of the freshman big man. “Especially that second half. It seemed like he was everywhere, he was protecting the rim, deflecting passes and cutting loose balls.
“The strength factor is something I think that he struggles with at times, but now he’s using his athletic ability and his quickness,” Anderson added.