St. John’s is off to its best start of the Chris Mullin era and enters Wednesday’s matchup against Saint Joseph’s with victories in four of the last five games, with the lone loss coming against now fourth-ranked Arizona State. The teams will be competing in the Basketball Hall of Fame Holiday Showcase at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn., St. John’s sixth neutral site contest of the season and its final tuneup before beginning Big East play.
The Red Storm (9-2) are getting it done defensively, holding seven of their 11 opponents to 60 points or fewer to put them at 15th in the nation in scoring defense (61.9 points) through Monday. “Our defense has been great,” Mullin told reporters after beating Iona 69-59 on Sunday. “Again tonight, I thought we were really, really good. Tariq (Owens) was incredible by blocking shots and cutting off the basket. ... The good thing is that even though we are struggling on offense, it hasn’t taken away from our defensive effort.” That effort has resulted in St. John’s moving up the Division I ranks to the top 10 in turnover margin (7.0), blocks (6.5), field-goal percentage defense (36.8) and turnovers forced (19.36) through Monday. Saint Joseph’s will provide a challenge to that defense as the Hawks have won three of their last five thanks, in part, to taking good care of the ball as they are second in the nation in fewest turnovers per game (8.7) while registering single digits in turnovers in five of 10 games, with a low of three last time out in a 72-59 victory over Maine.
TV: 4:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
ABOUT SAINT JOSEPH’S (5-5): Three active players average in double figures, led by seniors Shavar Newkirk (16.9) and James Demery (16.8), who helped the Hawks end their two-game losing streak with 19 points each in the win over Maine. Demery also had 10 of the team’s 43 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Freshman Taylor Funk (14.2 points per game) scored 10 in the win, but he hit just one of his seven 3-point attempts - giving him 31 for the season and dropping his percentage to 47.7 from beyond the arc.
ABOUT ST. JOHN’S (9-2): The Red Storm missed all 12 of its 3-point attempts against Iona, the first time they failed to hit a trey since Nov. 15, 2013, but five players were still in double figures - led by Shamorie Ponds with a game-high 16 points, including a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in addition to four steals. Bashir Ahmed recorded his first double-double with 12 points and a career-high 11 rebounds, while Justin Simon added 15 points and seven rebounds along with four steals followed by Owens and Marvin Clark II each scoring 12. Owens has been a dominating presence inside since moving into the starting lineup in place of injured Marcus LoVett and he tied his personal best with six blocks against Iona, giving him 39 for the season to top the Big East.
1. Despite having met 57 times in their history, the teams only faced each other once since 1980 - a 2013 NIT opening-round 63-61 win by St. John’s.
2. The Red Storm have won three of their five neutral site games this season.
3. St. John’s had an overwhelming 44-16 advantage in points in the paint in the win over Iona.
PREDICTION: St. John’s 68, Saint Joseph’s 58