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LJ Figueroa helps St. John's men's basketball hold on for victory over Brown

LJ Figueroa #30 of the St. John's Red

LJ Figueroa #30 of the St. John's Red Storm is defended by Tamenang Choh #25 of the Brown Bears during a men's basketball game at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday, Dec 10, 2019.  Credit: Steven Ryan

In 10 days St. John’s will be in San Francisco to face it’s first nationally-ranked opponent, No. 15 Arizona. In three weeks it hosts Butler in its Big East opener on New Year’s Eve. Yet right this second, the Red Storm’s season feels like it hangs in the balance.

Mustapha Heron, the team’s second-leading scorer and emotional leader, had to be carried off the floor after suffering a brutal-looking right ankle injury with less than four minutes left in St. John’s 82-71 touch-and-go non-conference win over Brown Tuesday night at Carnesecca Arena.

St. John’s was on the defensive end with an 11-point lead after seeing Brown cut an 18-point margin to four — and almost two — when the injury occurred. Bears guard Brandon Anderson drove to the basket. Heron went up and blocked the shot as Anderson went sprawling to the ground. Heron came down on Anderson’s leg and crumpled to the court just beyond the baseline.

He was down and being tended to by training staff for more than a minute and made an attempt to get off the court with some assistance but was in too much pain. Ian Steere, the 6-9, 245-pound transfer from North Carolina State who will become eligible when St. John’s next plays on Dec. 18, scooped Heron up and carried him to the locker room.

Red Storm coach Mike Anderson said Heron will go for tests and be evaluated on Wednesday “and then we’ll know more.”

St. John’s (9-2) has won five straight but has to be holding its breath about Heron. Anderson valued him so much that after an agreement was made in April for him to take over the Red Storm, Heron was his first phone call. Big East coaches tabbed him and LJ Figueroa as preseason all-conference second-teamers.

“He’s big for our team,” Anderson said. “We’re a team that we don’t have a lot of room for error. So the players we have? They have to come in at that high level...It’s going to be next man up. We’ve prepared these guys.”

“He’s a great leader. He means everything to the team,” Figueroa said. “He [leads] by action and everything he does translates to the court. We follow him and [Anderson].”

Lost beneath the injury news is that St. John’s followed a very impressive weekend win over previously unbeaten West Virginia with a second underwhelming effort against a team that had little right playing with it.

St. John’s led by 18 in a first half that was highlighted by Heron rebounding his own missed shot and finding a streaking Greg Williams Jr. for a one-handed dunk that left the crowd gasping. Heron scored the Storm’s first 11 points out of the break for a 52-35 lead, but things got uncomfortable fast as the Bears (5-5) started making some of the open three-point looks they’d been missing.

With just under seven minutes left Brown’s Joshua Howard got open ahead of the pack and went for a dunk that would have cut the margin to two points. But he missed the dunk. Figueroa and Heron scored six unanswered points to restore order.

Figueroa finished with 23 points, Heron 21 points and Rasheem Dunn came off the bench to score 12 points and dish six assists without making a turnover for St. John’s. Anderson had 25 points and Howard 15 for the Bears.

Anderson said that after the game was over he spoke with Heron and “he was happy that we won.”

About everything else it’s a good bet he wasn’t.

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