St. John’s is off to a 5-0 start for the first time in eight seasons and looks to continue building confidence when it takes on Missouri in the semifinals of the AdvoCare Invitational on Friday at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Red Storm, who went 22-43 combined the last two seasons, rallied from eight points down in the final seven-plus minutes for an 82-77 victory over Oregon State in Thursday’s first round.
“We train to play 40 minutes of pressure defense,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin told reporters. “Be active and energetic. … we feel that’s going to wear down on people in the long haul.” Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds led the way with 26 points along with six assists for the Red Storm and will need another big effort against Missouri, which took care of Long Beach State 95-58 in the first round. The Tigers placed five players in double figures Thursday and that is what it will take to string together victories after losing prize recruit Michael Porter Jr., most likely for the season, with a back injury in the first game. “You move on because it is what it is,” Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin told reporters. “Now as a staff there are certain packages we have if Mike’s on the floor and now we make adjustments and put guys in position to do other things.”
TV: 11 a.m. ET, ESPNews
ABOUT MISSOURI (4-1): Porter’s brother Jontay came through with 15 points in the tournament opener and leading scorer senior guard Kassius Robertson matched his season average with 13. Junior guard Jordan Geist stepped up to score a season-high 16 against Long Beach State on 4-of-6 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals in 26 minutes. “(Geist) played with energy,” Martin told reporters. “I thought he set the tone defensively. He wreaked havoc on one of their best perimeter guys. That’s what we need from him every night.”
ABOUT ST. JOHN’S (5-0): The Red Storm advanced to the semifinals despite shooting 37.9 percent from the field, but continued to play suffocating defense while forcing 21 turnovers and increasing their turnover margin for the season to plus-9.6. Ponds improved his scoring average to 19 points and fellow sophomore Marcus LoVett pushed his to 15.6 after scoring 18 against Oregon State. Senior swingman Bashir Ahmed is averaging 12 points and sophomore guard Justin Simon tops the team in rebounding (8.8) while scoring 9.4 per contest.
1. Missouri junior F Kevin Puryear is second on the team in scoring (12.2) after registering eight on Thursday.
2. St. John’s junior F Tariq Owens has recorded at least two blocks in all five games and 15 overall.
3. Tigers freshman G Blake Harris had 11 points and nine assists Thursday after combining for 10 and seven, respectively, the first four games.
PREDICTION: St. John’s 76, Missouri 72