New York, NY –Gonzaga won the NIT Season Tip-Off on Friday night in a 73-66 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The Bulldogs had a well-balanced effort, but Lithuanian freshman Domantas Sabonis led the way with 14 points and 10 rebounds off the bench.
Sabonis, last week’s NetScouts Basketball International Player of the Week, did not miss against St. John’s as he was 6-of-6 from the field. He added two assists and two turnovers. The 6-foot-10 power forward showed advanced footwork down low and had no issues scoring against an athletic frontline. He showed his athleticism when he beat his defender down the floor, caught a pass in transition, and finished with a left-handed slam. Sabonis may not fit the mold of recent NBA power forwards in ability to stretch the floor, but he’s an old school, tough rebounder that competes inside. He’s 19-of-21 from the field over his last four games.
Seniors Byron Wesley, Gary Bell Jr., and Kevin Pangos also played critical roles in the backcourt. Wesley had some crucial buckets down the stretch that fended off a late comeback attempt. He hasn’t made a three-pointer this season, but can slash to the bucket and finish with a layup or floater. Wesley, a USC transfer, finished with 12 points and four rebounds in the win. Bell Jr. added 13 points and seven rebounds while Pangos contributed 11 points, nine assists, and four rebounds. Bell Jr. and Pangos can stretch the floor as knockdown shooters.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 32 points in Gonzaga’s previous game against Georgia, but was limited to eight points on 3-of-9 shooting. Junior 7-foot-1 Polish center Przemek Karnowski added 10 points and seven rebounds on 5-of-8 shooting. He doesn’t add much athleticism inside, but is a crafty big man on the offensive end.
Freshman Silas Melson also had productive minutes off the bench with Josh Perkins out with a broken jaw. The 6-foot-3 Melson had five points on 2-of-4 shooting and looked like a solid bench contributor.
Phil Greene IV had a breakout game for St. John’s with 20 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He hadn’t made a three-pointer entering Friday’s contest, but was 4-of-9 from deep against Gonzaga. The 6-foot-2 senior will need to shoot the ball well this year if St. John’s wants to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Sophomore Rysheed Jordan is a physical freak that has an NBA make-up. He’s a lengthy, 6-foot-4 point guard with athletic ability. He’s a solid ball handler that can attack the rim but is still working to become a true floor general. Jordan had just one assist compared to nine turnovers and played too fast at times. He can knock down mid-range jumpers, but must improve from deep. He was just a 27.9% shooter from three-point range as a freshman and is 3-of-15 so far this year. The physical tools are there, but Jordan needs to develop in the half-court setting.
Perhaps the top prospect for St. John’s had the quietest night. Junior Chris Obekpa scored just one point before fouling out, but had four rebounds and three blocks. He makes his biggest impact on the defensive end of the floor, as he averaged 4.3 blocks per game entering Friday. Obekpa is an athletic rim protector, but will need to show some offensive potential for the next level.
D’Angelo Harrison added 15 points on 4-of-16 shooting while Sir’Dominic Pointer kept the Red Storm close. He had a well-rounded nine points on 3-of-6 shooting to go with nine rebounds, five assists, and four steals. Pointer, a 6-foot-6 forward, will be a key glue piece for St. John’s this season.
Gonzaga improved to 6-0 on the season and will face Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday before heading to Tucson next Saturday to play Arizona. The Bulldogs will get a nice test with the highly ranked Wildcats. St. John’s lost its first game of the season and dropped to 4-1. The Red Storm will play Niagara before facing rival Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.
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