Game Recap: Red Storm beat back Bison

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

On an off-night for the usuals, Phil Greene IV comes through in a big way for the Johnnies.

He's the fourth of his kind to the Greene family, but to St. John's basketball Phil Greene IV is number one. That's because the junior guard showed up in a big way in St. John's 67-63 over Bucknell Tuesday night.

In a game where Red Storm (2-1) leading scorer D'Angelo Harrison was held in check to the tune of 12 points, and second leading scorer Jakarr Sampson could only muster 11 points on 5-of-11 shooting, Greene poured in a game-saving 16. That even includes hitting two 3-pointers, a feat worth praising since St. John's came in shooting a collective .087 from distance.

If it wasn't for Greene's hitting big buckets, the Red Storm would likely have been bowled over by the Bison (2-2). That's because Bucknell's deliberate style of basketball gave St. John's fits, especially in the game's first 30 minutes or so. In fact, Greene's two 3-pointers, coming within 51 seconds of each other in the second half, gave the Johnnies their first lead since the score was 2-0. Really, until those buckets the only thing keeping Steve Lavin's crew in the game was its defense.

Or more precisely, its 2-3 zone.

"The zone defense was the difference. It took them out of their rhythm and set up the blocks because it kept our bigs at home," Lavin said. "Offensively there was progress with some timely shots, especially Phil, and we had just enough down the stretch, making free throws to salt the win away."

After that slow start, which is nothing new this season for St. John's, the Red Storm zone collapsed in on Bucknell. The second half saw the Bison shoot an anemic 39.3 percent from the field. Plus, the Johnnies, enjoying a massive height advantage in the lane, swatted a season-high 13 shots, led by sophomore center Chris Obekpa's seven blocks.

But make no mistake, this game was a struggle for St. John's. The Bison had control due in large part to Cameron Ayers. The senior guard tallied a career high 25 points, making 9-of-15 from the field. Bucknell actually led by three midway through the second half after leading virtually all of the first half. But a 12-0 run, punctuated by a Sampson slam for St. John's, flipped the script and gave the Red Storm enough momentum to hold on for victory.

"It was a tale of two halves with Bucknell having their way in the first 20 minutes and St. John's having a dominating performance in the second half," said Lavin. "It was a quality win for our team given the stage of the season. Bucknell is going to be a handful for any team they play this season."

A handful may be an understatement, at least in St. John's eyes. As Lavin knows nights when Harrison is off usually spell disaster. But because the collective defensive effort, something missing last season, St. John's held on for a key win. Plus, for the first time in a long time, St. John's may have found another option offensively besides Harrison or Sampson in Greene.

A game like this should go a long way toward competing in the Big East and possibly making a run come March. But for now, things should get a little easier for St. John's. Monmouth comes to Carnesecca Arena on Friday night (9 p.m. Fox Sports 1).

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