Before the Johnnies had the opportunity to knock off the nation’s seventh-ranked team in Creighton – leading 38-35 at halftime on March 12 – the decision was made to cancel the remainder of the tournament.
Nonetheless, under Mike Anderson, now in his 18th season as a head coach, but his first with St. John’s, the Red Storm were able to show progress as a program despite the early departure of NBA player Shamorie Ponds last season, along with the career-ending injury to Mustapha Heron in 2020.
Although the Johnnies struggled to the ninth seed in the ten-team conference tournament, St. John’s could find solace in its season, where they’re expected to return nearly all of their roster for 2020-2021, barring an unforeseen level of transfers.
St. John’s will lose Nick Rutherford – formerly the team’s starting point guard, who managed to play big minutes down the stretch – along with walk-on Thomas O’Connell. Fellow walk-on Justin Cole graduated along with Heron, who at one point was projected as a second-round pick in NBA Draft.
Leading scorer LJ Figueroa averaged 14.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game for the Red Storm this past season, and may return for his senior season in an attempt to lead the Johnnies back into the NCAA Tournament. Figueroa shot a team-high 6.2 three-pointers per game and hit 36.5 percent from deep.
St. Francis Brooklyn and Cleveland State transfer Rasheem Dunn was granted an eligibility waiver just over one week into the regular season, and averaged nearly 12 points per game as the team’s third leading scorer, making an immediate impact for the Red Storm.
Dunn led the team with 3.4 assists per contest, and also toed the foul-line more than anyone else on the team, shooting 103-for-134 on the season, hitting 76.9 percent.
Heron’s season, which ended after a 12-point effort against Creighton on February 8, saw him net 13.8 points per game. Though the Auburn transfer only shot 38.5 percent from the field, he did hit on 38.5 ercent of his three-point attempts, serving as the team’s most efficient marksman from beyond-the-arc.
Notably, the Johnnies also received a big contribution from standout freshman Julian Champagnie, who played his high school basketball at nearby Bishop Loughlin High School in Brooklyn.
Champagnie led all St. John’s freshman with ten points and a club-high 6.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.3 percent from the floor.
Under Anderson, the team did demonstrate an ability to pull off the occasional upset victory. The first came over West Virginia University, 70-68, in the Red Storm’s first game in Madison Square Garden on December 7.
Two weeks later, the Red Storm upended sixteenth-ranked Arizona in San Francisco for their biggest non-conference victory of the season, winning 70-67.
Finally, the signature win of the year came against their quarterfinal foe, as St. John’s blew out then tenth-ranked Creighton, 91-71, on March 1.
One way or another, the Red Storm could be primed for a breakthrough campaign in 2020-21.