From Day 1, Mike Anderson hasn’t bought into the narrative. He has corrected reporters, frequently saying, unprompted, that St. John’s isn’t a two-man team.
Even when LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron have been at their best in the same game, a rare occurrence of late, the new Red Storm coach has reminded everyone the Johnnies are more than their two stars.
Perhaps he wants his players to hear it. Possibly he really believes it. Either way, eight games into Anderson’s first season in Queens, it’s becoming a reality.
Saturday afternoon was just the latest example.
Six days after the supporting cast keyed a come-from-behind victory over Massachusetts, they were at it again, carrying St. John’s to an 86-63 rout of Wagner at Carnesecca Arena.
“Coming in, we knew they were going to be the face of the team, but they’re not going to be the team,” Anderson said, referring to Heron and Figueroa. “That’s what we’re seeing now. This is going to be the ultimate team.”
With Figueroa unable to throw the ball in the ocean — he missed his first seven shots, though he did have six assists — and the previously struggling Heron (who did finish with 18 points) saddled with foul trouble after a hot start, Anderson looked elsewhere. He was again rewarded with a complete effort from the players who were supposed to be backup dancers for Heron and Figueroa, the preseason second team All-Big East selections.
Enlarge ImageMustapha Heron
Mustapha Heron blocks a shot.Anthony J. Causi
Sophomore forward Josh Roberts again led the charge, continuing to produce at a far faster rate than anyone could have expected after spending most of his freshman year on the bench. He controlled the paint and nearly finished with his first-career double-double, scoring 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds.
Rasheem Dunn, the St. Francis Brooklyn transfer, scored 14 points off the bench. Freshman Julian Champagnie reached double figures (12) for the fourth straight game. Building off his stellar performance against UMass, Monmouth transfer Nick Rutherford notched seven points, three assists and two steals, along with no turnovers in 19 minutes. He also defended at a high level, setting the pace and creating easy chances for his teammates.
Elijah Ford had 12 points and 10 rebounds to lead Wagner (2-5).
Anderson consistently has gone 10 deep, and all 10 of those players scored on Saturday.
“Guys are getting plenty of time and they’re playing efficient minutes,” the coach said. “You got multiple guys that can come in and impact the team. What it does is it makes our team a little bit better.”
With that said, Heron’s bounce-back performance was significant. Last weekend in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., he scored just 11 points in two games, shooting 3-of-13 from the field. He scored 18 points in 16 against Wagner, sinking three 3-pointers and moving well without the ball instead of forcing shots. St. John’s (6-2) will need the senior star at his best when the rugged Big East season begins.
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“He just seemed in a much, much better rhythm. That’s important,” Anderson said. “Those shots he made early [in the game] I thought opened up the floor for our guys and we were able to attack early on. It kind of set the stage.”
Heron admitted he was pressing somewhat last weekend, and he watched extra film of those performances to see what went wrong, hoping to avoid similar efforts down the road. He knows what’s needed from him.
“Every night is important that I perform,” Heron said, “or the team won’t be as successful as we should be.”