St. John's uses defense to overcome Bucknell, 67-63

St. John's Phil Greene IV shoots over the St. John's Phil Greene IV shoots over the middle. (Nov, 19, 2013) Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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It was building. One block at a time, of course.

The excitement level of the St. John's home crowd became a crescendo with each shot Chris Obekpa and Orlando Sanchez rejected.

It reached a fever pitch when the 6-9 Obekpa swatted consecutive attempts under the basket -- and sent the second into the crowd with 43 seconds left -- helping the Red Storm secure a 67-63 win over Bucknell Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.

"I think Chris is the best shot-blocker in the country," teammate Sir'Dominic Pointer said of the sophomore, who averaged four blocks last season. "It energizes the team and we get hyped."

Obekpa had five of his seven blocks in the second half, helping St. John's erase a nine-point deficit and improve to 2-1. Sanchez added four blocks.

But blocks alone don't carry a rally. Phil Greene scored 12 of his 16 points after intermission to lead the comeback. D'Angelo Harrison rebounded from a poor first half to finish with 12 points, including five free throws in the final 57 seconds, and JaKarr Sampson had 11 points and six rebounds.

Greene put St. John's ahead at 52-51 with a long baseline jumper with 8:56 remaining. And Harrison, 33 seconds later, nailed a three from the left wing -- a possession initiated by Obekpa's block in the paint. Pointer's fast-break dunk pushed the lead to 57-51 with 6:50 to go, and Obekpa (six points) hit a long jumper for an eight-point cushion.

"This game let us know that we'll win more games with defense than with offense," said Pointer, who had four points, six assists and three steals.

The Red Storm switched to a zone scheme in the second half, which, coach Steve Lavin said, "changed the game."

Bucknell's Cameron Ayers scored 16 of his 25 points in the first half and helped stake the Bison (2-2) to a 41-32 lead early in the second half. "[The zone] was more effective than our man-to-man," Lavin said. "It allowed us to keep our bigs at home . . . sort of like goalies."

St. John's prized freshman Rysheed Jordan, who went scoreless against Wagner last Friday, had seven points and two assists in 14 minutes. Jordan sat during most of the second half rally, Lavin said, because he isn't as familiar with the slides in their zone defense.

This team, Lavin said, is still a work in progress but "by late January, early February could find its stride. We're just scratching the surface."

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