Queens, NY – St. John’s and New Orleans met for the first time in history on Friday night to kick off the 2017 season. The New Orleans Privateers entered Carnesecca Arena looking to build on the momentum of last year’s NCAA Tournament berth, despite the departure of Southland Player of the Year, Erik Thomas. St. John’s, now in their third season under head coach Chris Mullin, are led by their dynamic young backcourt (sophomores Marcus LoVett and Shamorie Ponds) and hope to improve upon last year’s 14-19 record..
With both teams eager to play their first meaningful minutes of the new season, St. John’s and UNO came out of the gate with a lot of energy, leading to a combination highlight plays and sloppy turnovers. Arizona transfer Justin Simon quickly made his presence felt for St. John’s, throwing down two thunderous dunks early in the first half – showcasing his ability to run the floor and cut to the basket. The game was competitive through the half, with New Orleans finding some early success with their 2-3 zone defense, forcing St. John’s to repeatedly move the ball from side to side. However, St. John’s eventually began to beat the zone, led by the 3-point shooting of LoVett, Ponds, and Michigan State transfer Marvin Clark II, as the Red Storm took a 37-28 lead into halftime.
With the lead in hand, St. John’s did not look back, en route to a 77-61 victory. Turnovers proved to be the killer for New Orleans, as they turned it over 21 times compared to the Red Storm’s 11. That continued an unpleasant trend from last season in which the Privateers had the third worst TO% in college basketball. The worry about St. John’s frontcourt had merit Friday night, as they were out-rebounded 42-27. However, St. John’s was propelled by their ability to force turnovers and their sharp 3-point shooting (40% as a team), in what was a promising victory to begin the season.
St. John’s PG LoVett put in an outstanding effort to start the season, contributing 23 points on 5-of-10 3-point shooting and three assists in 34 minutes. He demonstrated the various number of ways he can impact a game. LoVett, a lefty, has a quick, fluid release and knocked down a number of catch and shoot opportunities. In addition to his shooting, he was able to attack off the dribble and keep the defense off balance, while setting things up for his teammates, including an impressive no look pass in transition. The sophomore guard stayed active defensively as well, pressuring the ball and coming up with four steals.
Overall, it was an impressive debut for St. John’s and their lead guard. Up next is a home stand against Central Connecticut State on Tuesday.
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