There was a purpose to St. John’s scheduling two essential warm-up games to instill confidence for the challenging portion of the tougher road ahead — and it has had its intended effect.
New Orleans on Friday and Central Connecticut on Tuesday weren’t supposed to be threats, and neither were. St. John’s manhandled both, following Friday’s 16-point victory with a 80-55 thrashing of the NEC school at Carnesecca Arena.
That sets up the Gavitt Games meeting with Big Ten foe Nebraska on Thursday night. After that comes the AdvoCare Invitational, starting with Oregon State of the Pac-12 in the opener on Thanksgiving afternoon.
Those games will reveal more about the Red Storm than their first two games, in which they were able merely to roll the balls out and prevail. Tuesday’s rout merely restated what the opener showcased: A lethal backcourt (Marcus LoVett, Shamorie Poinds, and Justin Simon), an upgrade up front in Marvin Clark II, and a dynamic team in the open court.
The defense seems improved, creating 21 turnovers on Tuesday and turning them into 31 points, after forcing the same amount in the opener. Clark and Simon look like impact players, the kind of two-way players that were sorely lacking a year ago.
The 6-foot-5 Simon notched a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds, along with three assists and three steals. Ponds delivered a second straight complete floor game, leading the Johnnies with 21 points, and adding nine rebounds, four assists and three steals. LoVett had 15 points, all in the second half, and four assists.
Bryan Trimble Jr., the lone freshman on the active roster, provided a spark off the bench with eight points. Deion Bute led Central Connecticut with 19 points and nine rebounds.
The one snafu from the opener, getting beaten up on the glass 42-27, wasn’t an issue Tuesday. St. John’s outrebounded Central Connecticut, 38-29, and limited the Blue Devils to four offensive rebounds, a major point of emphasis after the Johnnies were manhandled on the boards by New Orleans.
There were nothing but positive vibes on this night. Thursday, the real tests begin.