PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — On an off-night for Big East preseason Player of the Year Shamorie Ponds, St. John’s relied on two newcomers to notch the Johnnies most impressive win of the young season.
Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron had a game-high 27 points, including four-of-five from beyond the arc while JUCO transfer LJ Figueroa had 23 points, including 14 points on four-of-five from 3-point land in the first half, to lead St. John’s past Rutgers 84-65 in the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
“Playing with my great teammates, it makes the game a lot easier,” Figueroa said of his transition from the JUCO ranks. “Playing with great players like Mustapha, Shamorie, Marv(in Clark II), everybody on the team it shows our potential and what we can do, so the transition wasn’t hard at all.”
Clark II hit a trio of 3-pointers in a two-minute span in the second half during which St. John’s ballooned a 16-point lead into a 23-point lead with 8:33 left in the game. St. John’s (3-0) led by as many as 25.
“I think every day in practice we get a little better playing with each other and I think it shows – translates to the game. Of course, we’re human, so we’re going to make mistakes, everyone gets into their ways, but it’s easy for us to snap out of it coming out of a timeout, or just getting the rebound to snap out of it and play good basketball.”
Rutgers (2-1) was led by Issa Thiam with 13 points while Eugene Omoruyi chipped in with 12 points.
“We were uncharacteristic today of the things that we’ve been doing a great job of and that’s sharing the ball and moving it around and we’ll get back to that,” Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said. “And we have to figure out a way to defend better and that’s been an issue and we’ll work on that and we’ll get better.”
St. John’s will be without South Carolina transfer Sedee Keita for the next 4-6 weeks after he underwent successful surgery on his right knee on Wednesday.
While the Red Storm won’t be ranked, a 19-point road win against a Big Ten foe should garner them more than the two votes they received last week.
Rutgers struggled from the free throw line, going 12-of-21 on the game, including one-of-eight in the first half. Rutgers was just 15-of-26 from the charity stripe in the first two games.
St. John’s: The Red Storm received two votes in the latest AP Top 25 Poll, which has them tied for 45 with Arizona, Marshall and Xavier. On sheer talent, they’re an NCAA Tournament team. It’s on fourth-year coach Chris Mullen to guide them there.
Rutgers: After two games against inferior opponents, and a couple more after, this was the first litmus test for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers was clearly the less talented team, which will also be the case for many Big Ten games.
St. John’s: Play California at Barclays Center Monday night in the Legends Classic.