St. John’s hit the season’s first stretch of rough waters unexpectedly on Tuesday night. A prohibitive favorite against New Hampshire, the Red Storm faced a double-digit deficit in the first half and found itself in a one-possession game with less than seven minutes to play. LJ Figueroa took the rudder both times and steered St. John’s to victory.
Figueroa tied a career-high with 25 points – including 11 after falling into a 12-point hole in the first half and eight in the final seven minutes – as the Storm ultimately pulled away for a 74-61 non-conference win before 3,320 at Carnesecca Arena. He also had eight rebounds and three assists.
“We're not the type of team that can just show up and win – we’ve got to be blue collar,” Storm coach Mike Anderson said. “We’ve got to do the right things defensively, offensively. And I thought we came out and just kind of went through the motions early on.”
Figueroa called it “getting punched in the mouth.”
Leading scorer Mustapha Heron shot just 2-for-12 for five points, though he also had five assists. St. John’s (3-0) proved resourceful at filling the void and answering a question of what it would do if he or Figueroa struggled.
Josh Roberts had 12 points to go with seven rebounds and four blocked shots; Freshman Julian Champagnie had 11 points and nine rebounds; and David Caraher and Marcellus Earlington added nine points and eight points, respectively.
“This is where you learn how to become a team,” Anderson said. “This is where you learn out who are the guys who are going to step up defensively, who are going to be our ‘go-to’ guys [and] who is going to make the plays to keep momentum going.”
When the Wildcats’ Chris Lester hit a three-pointer with 10:27 before the half, UNH was up 23-11. St. John’s bounced back with 11 of Figueroa’s points and took a 36-34 halftime lead when Earlington sank a put-back with two seconds left.
“All of a sudden we got a rhythm and the game was played at a much, much faster pace, a better pace and suited to LJ and our team,” Anderson said. “Marcellus, David and Greg: that bunch came off the bench and they became a blue collar team and started doing the things that enabled us to get back in the game.”
A three-pointer by Nick Guadarrama brought UNH (2-1) within 57-54 with 6:39 to play. St. John’s answered with a 12-0 run that included eight points by Figueroa, including a pair of his five three-pointers. It led by double digits the rest of the way.
“Don't think I did it all by myself,” Figueroa said.
St. John’s has a heavier lift this weekend against Vermont, which comes off an NCAA Tournament appearance and is again the America East favorite. But now the Storm has seen that it negotiate a little adversity.
“We’re not just a one-man or two-man team,” Roberts said. “Everybody can contribute and do different things on different nights. Every night it could be someone else.”