St. John's Red Storm guard Vince Cole puts up a...

St. John's Red Storm guard Vince Cole puts up a layup past Rider Broncs forward Tyrel Bladen during a non-conference men's basketball game at Carnesecca Arena on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

First came the bad. Then came the ugly. And finally there was the good from St. John’s in its last game before Big East play begins.

The Red Storm’s final tune-up for conference play was Tuesday night against a Rider team with 12 new players that was picked to finish dead last in the Metro Atlantic and got taken to the wire. It would be hard to say that St. John’s looked ready for Friday’s opener at Seton Hall, but it least it goes in on a win after eking out an 82-79 non-conference win with a game-closing 18-9 run over the last 4:02 at Carnesecca Arena.

"Ready or not, here it comes," St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said of the upcoming game with the Pirates. "We’re in the family. The sense of urgency is going up 20 notches."

Vince Cole had nine of St. John’s last 11 points in the game-ending run and finished with 26 points, including 17 in the second half. His pair of free throws with 2:21 to play put the Storm up 73-72, the final lead change of the game.

Cole hit a pull-up jumper with 1:04 left for a 77-74 lead, a three-pointer with 45 seconds left for an 80-76 advantage and two free throws with five seconds left to ice it.

"We know what Seton Hall is and we know that Big East play is 10 times harder than what we've been playing right now," Cole said. "I feel like everybody's really trying to get up to it and we know what it takes to win in the Big East. We’re going to have to provide more energy and more effort."

"You can’t look at the names on the [other team] jerseys," Anderson said. "You’ve got to play tough."

St. John’s (5-1) will play at Seton Hall after its scheduled opener that day against Connecticut was postponed because of a positive COVID-19 test in the Huskies program. The Pirates had been scheduled to play DePaul on Friday, but that game was postponed because of a positive test on the Blue Demons. Friday’s 4:30 p.m. game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.

"It’s 2020 – here’s what it is," Anderson said of adjusting prep for a new opponent. "Thank God we get a chance to play a basketball game."

Julian Champagnie had 18 points and 10 rebounds and Marcellus Earlington had 16 points, including 12 after halftime for the Storm. Rodney Henderson Jr. had 20 points, including six three-pointers, as Rider was 11-for-24 from distance.

St. John’s effort did appear to be there at the start, but it didn’t execute. In the first half the Storm had 10 offensive rebounds and seven steals that produced 15 more shots than Rider (0-2) took. Still it trailed 35-33 at the break because it was only 14-for-40 (35%) shooting, including 1-for 9 on three-pointers, wasting so many of its extra chances. The Broncs meanwhile made 5 of 13 three-point attempts.

"Rider made five of its first seven shots in the second half and went up 48-37 on Allen Powell’s three-pointer at the top of the circle with 16:17 to play. Only then did the Red Storm start to put something together. They made 10 of 12 shots in a 20-8 run and grabbed a 57-56 lead when Champagnie finished a break with a dunk off a feed from Greg Williams Jr.

The Storm shad truggled as it missed four straight shots and Rider answered with a 7-0 run for a 63-57 lead with under seven minutes left.

"We didn’t play well, but we had the resolve to finish the game and that’s a positive," Anderson said. "You have to be able to find a way to win, even when you’re not playing your best game."

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