From St. John's perspective, some good came out of the game against Monmouth Friday night: a third straight Red Storm win, Chris Obekpa's continued shot-blocking prowess, another solid offensive showing from Phil Greene IV.
But also some bad: a glaring lack of inside scoring, allowing an inferior opponent to hang around longer than it should have, and the noticeable absence of prized freshman Rysheed Jordan.
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Obekpa blocked nine shots, which helped St. John's tie its team record of 15, and Greene had 22 points and a career-high eight rebounds as St. John's beat Monmouth, 64-54, in the opening game of the Barclays Center Classic at Carnesecca Arena.
But the win came without Jordan, who was suspended for the game because of a violation of team rules, an announcement that was made two hours before the tip. Coach Steve Lavin that Jordan's transgression was basic, not severe.
"If he takes care of his responsibilities, he'll be back with the team. If he doesn't, he won't,'' Lavin said. "It's a basic responsibility that our team members must adhere to. If they take care of that aspect, they are allowed to participate as student-athletes, and if they don't, they won't."
After a three-pointer by Justin Robinson gave Monmouth a 40-38 lead, JaKarr Sampson hit a runner off the glass to spark a 12-1 run. Monmouth pulled back within four before D'Angelo Harrison drilled a pair of threes, the second of which increased St. John's lead to 57-51 with a little more than three minutes left. Harrison had 15 points despite playing only 16 minutes because of foul trouble.
"Gotta stay loose on the sidelines," Harrison said. "Coach [Steve] Lavin has enough confidence in me. I knew I was going to come in late . . . Those big shots, if you're going to take them, you gotta hit them."
With St. John's clinging to a five-point lead, Orlando Sanchez hauled in an offensive rebound and kicked it out to Greene, who drained a corner three to make it 62-54 with one minute left.
"I was being confident," Greene said. "I was wide open, so I had enough confidence to shoot them. I was making them all game, I just took the big one."
Sampson had 14 points and nine rebounds for St. John's (3-1). Robinson had 15 points to lead Monmouth (1-3).
St. John's was outrebounded 44-35 and outscored in the paint 32-16 by a smaller team. The Red Storm hoisted too many shots from downtown, shooting 8-for-21 overall, rather than making the extra pass or driving to the basket.
"I'm just glad they went in. To get 24 points from the three-point line turned out to be the difference. That's what won the game,'' Lavin said. "Yet we can't fall in love with the three-point shot, obviously, either. We need to be a balance of both inside and outside. Score in transition, score on our halfcourts from the inside and outside, get ourselves to the foul line, score on special situations in terms of out-of-bounds plays and late clock. But I thought the three-point line was one of the very few bright spots from this evening."
"We didn't play with enough energy," Sampson said. "We didn't get the ball in the paint as we normally do . . . We have to get the ball in the paint and be more aggressive on the boards."