St. John's facing another nationally ranked team coming off tough loss
For the second straight game, St. John's catches a nationally ranked opponent coming off a loss and arriving at Madison Square Garden bent on redemption. That was a losing formula against Georgetown on Saturday, and 20th-ranked Notre Dame figures to be an even tougher test Tuesday night.
The Red Storm (9-7, 1-3 Big East) lost by 16 points after trailing by as many as 26 Saturday against the Hoyas, who responded to their worst home loss in 40 years, a 28-point blowout against Pitt. Similarly, the Irish (14-2, 2-1) lost to Connecticut on Saturday to end a 17-game home winning streak.
"Notre Dame is a great three-point shooting team, and they're the best passing team in the country," Red Storm coach Steve Lavin said Monday. "They're a team that enjoys the thrill of the pass."
The Irish rank second in the nation with an average of 19.1 assists per game, fifth in field-goal percentage (.508) and ninth in three-point field-goal percentage (.418). Forward Jack Cooley averages 15.1 points per game and ranks seventh nationally in rebounds (11.1) and 12th in field-goal percentage (.611), but he undoubtedly will be shadowed by St. John's Chris Obekpa, who won Big East rookie of the week honors and leads the nation with 5.13 blocked shots per game.
"We have to force him to catch the ball outside his comfort zone, which obviously is in the lane," Lavin said of Cooley.
Veteran Notre Dame guards Eric Atkins (11.6 points, 7.1 assists) and Jerian Grant (12.6, 5.2) offer a major challenge for a young St. John's backcourt. Red Storm scoring leader D'Angelo Harrison, whose 20.6 scoring average ranks 14th nationally, is coming off a season-worst seven-point performance, and Phil Greene recently has been limited by a labrum injury in his left hip. He was scoreless in 16 minutes against Georgetown.
"It affects me a lot, but I can play through it," Greene said.
Lavin said Greene will postpone surgery until the offseason unless the medical staff decides to shut him down sooner. It's uncertain whether Greene will start against the Irish or be replaced by Jamal Branch.
The focus remains on defense and rebounding for the Red Storm, said Lavin, who called for a more aggressive approach than his young team demonstrated against Georgetown. After that game, forward Amir Garrett said, "We're definitely embarrassed, angry, all those words. This is not how we play. We're not going to come out like that again."