Over the last two years, St. John's offense has largely run through talented guard Daryll Hill. With the emergence players such as Lamont Hamilton and Eugene Lawrence, however, SJU has become a much more balanced, and therefore much better, Big East team.
Hill (Jr., 6-0, 170 lbs.) isn't shrinking into the background, however. The hometown hero still leads the team in scoring at 12.2 points per game, and although he is struggling from the field (hitting just 35..3%) his reduced shot totals and more restrained style of play are allowing the talents of his teammates to shine through. Backcourt mate Eugene Lawrence (So., 6-1, 220 lbs.) has thrived with the chance to handle the ball. He scores 10.2 points per contest and is tallying almost five assists per game.
Ryan Williams (Sr., 6-5, 230 lbs.) is slated to be the third starter in the game, due to the absence of Aaron Spears. Williams tends to play closer to the basket on offense, and will likely try to use his strength against WVU's slender front line. He has attempted just five three-pointers on the season, but has snared nearly half of his rebounds on the offensive glass. Cedric Jackson (So., 6-2, 195 lbs.) logs nearly 23 minutes per outing off the bench, and chips in 3.9 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Jackson is also a defensive standout, recording 25 steals (second best on the team) to date.
Forward Lamont Hamilton (Jr., 6-10, 250 lbs.) is on a roll of late, tallying 11.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. He has 22 blocks on the season, and has been a solid stopper on the back line of the Red Storm defense. Anthony Mason (Fr., 6-7, 205 lbs.) has been solid from the start of the season, averaging 8.5 points and 4.6 rebounds.
St. John's will be hampered by the absence of Aaron Spears (Jr., 6-10, 255 lbs.) who will have to sit out the WVU game after being ejected from the Connecticut contest. Attempting to fill in will be forward Phil Missere (Sr., 6-9, 205 lbs.) who will likely see much more time than the 11.3 minutes he has averaged to date.
West Virginia will at least be a bit more comfortable in its road surroundings this time against the Red Storm. In the past, the Mountaineers have played their road contests against the Johnnies at cramped Alumni Hall, but this time face their defensive-minded hosts at Madison Square Garden, where the Gold and Blue enjoyed their memorable run last March. However, this is certainly going to be no cakewalk for West Virginia, as St. John's which has posted the best defensive numbers in the Big East to date, is on an unanticipated roll.
|Sun Jan 29|
WVU 14-4, 5-0
SJ 10-7, 3-3
WVU - 40
SJ - 92
Perhaps more importantly, West Virginia's players may have some demons to clear from their heads if they are to win this game. The Mountaineers have scored 21, 20 and 32 points in their last three halves of play, and no matter which way you add it up, that's losing basketball. SJU, no doubt, has visions of 10-point halves dancing in its dreams as it works on ways to further demoralize the suddenly scoring-challenged WVU offense.
Whether it was due to fatigue, the Charleston Civic Center, lack of focus, or whatever, this Mountaineer team was certainly not ready to play last Wednesday. When it hits the court on Sunday afternoon, it will face defensive pressure that's an order of magnitude higher than what it was the last time out, and certainly a more hostile crowd. If West Virginia can't find a way to muster the effort that it has shown for most games this year, the Mountaineers will be returning home with their first conference loss.
Joe Herber will tie Lester Rowe's school record of 114 consecutive starts when he takes the floor for the opening tip against the Red Storm. Rowe's streak ran from 1982-85. Herber also holds the third-longest currently active streak of starts in the country, behind Gerry McNamara of Syracuse and James Augustine of Illinois.
Herber is also just 130 minutes from becoming West Virginia's all-time leader in minutes played. He is currently sixth on the list, but will likely pass Chris Brooks against St. John's to move into fifth. Darryl Prue currently tops the chart with 3,788 minutes played.
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St. John's defensive numbers are strong across the board. The Red Storm allows just 56.8 points per game, good for first in the conference and sixth in the nation, and is yielding a field goal percentage of just 37.6%, which is second in the conference to UConn and fifth in the country. What remains to be seen is how the loss of Spears will affect their defensive unity.
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West Virginia is the fourth-consecutive Top 25 opponent St. John's has faced. The Red Storm defeated Louisville and Pitt while dropping a decision to number one Connecticut in the last two weeks.
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St. John's does not recognize one of its losses to West Virginia in the all-time series. The Red Storm media releases list the alltime series record at 15-13.