Celebrating head coach Steve Lavin’s return to the sideline, St. John’s opened the season with a block party.
In his collegiate debut, freshman Chris Obekpa broke the school record with eight blocks, leading the Johnnies to a 77-74 win in their season opener against Detroit on Tuesday, November 13.
“I just kept playing like the heat was on. I thought I played OK. It could have been better,” said Obeka of his performance. “I want to have 10 blocks next game.”
The Red Storm swatted 12 Detroit shots, falling one short of the team record set in 1982.
Expectations remain low for the Johnnies who did not give a minute to an upperclassmen in the opener and gave three freshmen significant playing time. The team finished 13-19 last year.
“There’s going to be stretches where you play brilliantly because you recruited well, but there’s also going to be stretches because of our youth where we do some things that drive a coach crazy, leave you pulling out your hair,” said Lavin, who returned to the bench after coaching just four games last season because of prostate cancer surgery, calling his team’s play “uneven.”
Big East coaches chose the youthful Johnnies to finish 10th in a preseason conference poll.
“We have guys who haven’t played in a game like this and to have them step up and make plays was amazing,” said sophomore D’Angelo Harrison.
Harrison paced St. John’s in points with 22 off the bench. The sophomore, who was named to the preseason All-Big East second team, was benched in the second preseason game after receiving limited minutes in the first for what Lavin called a lack of leadership qualities.
The 2 p.m. game was part of ESPN’s 24-hour college basketball opening day marathon.
The Johnnies now head to South Carolina for the DirecTV Charleston Classic beginning on November 15. The team returns home for a November 21 match up with Holy Cross.