St. John’s flunked its first real test in its last game before tipping off Big East play, falling Sunday at then-No. 23 Iowa State. But otherwise the tuneups before Wednesday’s tipoff to the conference schedule against DePaul at Carnesecca Arena came with a straight row of a three-letter word that begins with W.
The question is, will non-conference success translate into Big East success for the Red Storm this season?
Their early schedule didn’t have too many high hurdles. But they seem to have a better team. This team was picked for sixth in the conference, then won its first eight before Iowa State.
But St. John’s had success in Game 1 of this Big East journey, trouncing the Blue Demons, 86-67, behind Joel Soriano’s D-I-leading eighth double-double — 17 points and 14 rebounds — four other double-figure scorers and a defense that allowed just 39.1% shooting and nine steals.
“We all know that a conference game brings on a different mindset,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I thought our guys brought the intensity.”
This marked the first time David Jones faced the team he left after last season. The 6-6 junior forward spent two years at DePaul before transferring to St. John’s. He finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. He said he was snubbed by a player for a handshake before the game, a motivator.
But Jones also said, “For me, it was a regular game. I went to that school last year, but my coach and my players told me to keep my head in the game.”
Andre Curbelo contributed 15 points, five assists and three steals. Posh Alexander had 13 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals.
The 9-1 Red Storm, who now have two more non-conference games before devoting themselves fully to the Big East grind, got off to a terrible start at Iowa State. Not this time. They burst out to a 12-0 lead.
St. John’s aggressive defensive effort kept making a difference. Jones made a steal. Soriano, the 6-11, 255-pound senior center, has become a force inside, and Jones ultimately fed him for a thunderous jam – 35-20.
The lead was 40-29 lead at the break.
It swelled to 16 early in the second half on a three by Montez Mathis. But DePaul (5-4), which was paced by Zion Cruz’s 14 points, chipped it down to 50-41 on a layup by Da’Sean Nelson to cap a 14-7 run.
That’s as close as it got. The Red Storm eventually went up by as many as 24.
“We’re not going to be the same team that we are [now] in March,” Soriano said. “We just want to take it game by game, play by play, and keep getting better, keep building from each win.”