Dominant interior defender Chris Obepka (above) for St. John’s today in Jamaica.

Despite being home at Carnesecca to start the season, we were not expecting big things from St. John’s today against Detroit.  So when we picked up the action late in the first half and the Johnnies were trailing 30-25, and 34-28, we were not surprised.  In the second half, the team looked a bit better, but they were missing key free throws and open jumpers until about half way through.  One kid in particular with a penchant for fall away jump shots had us particularly rankled, and longing for Norvel Pelle.  St. John’s had definitely stepped up their intensity and their defensive effort in the 2nd half, which led to several fast break opportunities, but when failing to convert them, the Johnnies had let Detroit’s lead grow to 49-41 and at that point, we were just watching to see what happened next, and not particularly expecting much.

But then that kid who seemed to like fall aways from the elbow decided to justify Lavin’s faith for awarding him a precious late scholarship, which so many fans questioned at the time.  Chris Obekpa, all of 6’8, took over the game, putting a virtual lid on the basket, along with one of the jewels of the 2011 class, D’Angelo Harrison, who contributed 15 2nd half points, and 13 in the final 7 minutes, for 22 points in 29 minutes off the bench, allowing St. John’s to come back from down 60-53 with 9 or so minutes to play, and to end the game on a 24-14 run, en route to a 77-74 victory.  The win already gives St. John’s an impressive non-conference victory in their first game in a game where hard core supporters like us were probably not expecting the world, despite the Johnnies coming in as a slim favorite, in all likelihood, because of their home court advantage.

Lavin was back on the sideline where he belongs, back in his tie-less suit and white sneakers.  LOL.  He might have dressed it up a little more had he known it was to be one for the record books.  Nigerian freshman by way of Long Island, Chris Obepka, broke Rob Werdann’s 23 year old blocked shot record, finishing with 8 on the afternoon.  We counted 9 ourselves, but we can not quibble over Obepka’s tally, who, frankly, already has turned heads and has us praying that he isn’t going to be a one and done kind of kid.

Many believed that Jakarr Sampson would be a one and done guy, but his debut was not as sterling.  Sampson struggled, and though he started, converted on only 1-7 FG’s, for 2 points (but he did manage 6 boards).  St. John’s outshot Detroit (45.9% to 35.1%), and out-rebounded Detroit (31-21), excelling in both categories largely on the strength of Obekpa, who also had 8 boards, and who, by game’s end had us reverse our thinking on Pelle.  Because frankly, we don’t think the Johnnies have had a defensive player of Obepka’s size and ability ever.

In addition to Sampson, Lavin started Obekpa, Amir Garrett (who thankfully is sticking with basketball despite being 6’7 with a 95 MPH fast ball), Phil Greene, Freshman Christian Jones, with Harrison and Pointer off the bench.

Also, notably, Greene played the entire 40 minutes and had 20 pts.  Garrett contributed 15 and 11 boards in 34 minutes.  Harrison, who led the offensive surge in the 2nd half, came off the bench along with Dom Pointer, who, seemed out of place to us.  He had only 3 points in 18 minutes and was routinely beaten off the dribble, despite his reputation for defensive prowess.

Thursday @ 5 PM St. John’s will play its 1st road game against the College of Charleston.

LET’S GO REDMEN!

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