The Virginia Tech men’s basketball team will play a critical out-of-conference matchup this Saturday afternoon when they host the St. John’s Red Storm in Cassell Coliseum at 4pm. The Hokies are 6-3, losing two games on last second shots. The Red Storm enter the matchup at 5-1. The game could potentially have big postseason implications. Both teams would like nothing more than to have a victory against a solid team from a rival conference on their resume when March arrives.
The Red Storm have put together what appears to be a solid team this season. Their only loss, a 64-51 defeat at the hands of Hofstra, came without their best player and leading scorer Darryl Hill. Both teams are familiar with each other, having met as Big East foes, as well as last season. The Hokies fell to St. John’s 75-65 on the road last season, and the Red Storm hold a 6-4 lead in the overall series.
Like all good teams, the Red Storm have a great player on the perimeter and in the paint. Darryl Hill missed two games for disciplinary issues, but he leads the team in scoring at 15.3 points per game. Hill isn’t big, standing only 6-0, but he does a number of things well on the court. He isn’t afraid to take it inside against smaller players, and he also possesses an outstanding jump shot. The St. John’s offense starts with Hill, and the Hokies will look to take him out of his element with physical defensive play from Jamon Gordon, Zabian Dowdell and Markus Sailes.
On the inside, St. John’s will employ outstanding junior power forward Lamont Hamilton. Hamilton is a prototypical Big East front court player, measuring 6-10, 253. He will be a load for the Hokies to handle underneath. He averages a double-double, with 13.7 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He has also blocked 12 shots and is second on the team with nine steals.
Joining Hamilton on the inside will be the slightly larger center, Aaron Spears. Spears doesn’t possess the skills of Hamilton, but he does take up a lot of space at 6-10, 256. He averages 5.5 points and 2.7 rebounds per game, but only plays 15.7 minutes per game. The girth of Hamilton and Spears enable the Red Storm to outrebound their opponents by an average of 45.3-32.5, a margin of nearly 13 rebounds per game.
NBA fans will recognize the name of St. John’s starting small forward Anthony Mason, Jr. His father, Anthony Mason, Sr., had a very productive 13 year career in the NBA, including a stint with the New York Knicks. Anthony Mason, Jr. has started all six games for the Red Storm, averaging seven points and five rebounds per game. Mason is a talented player who can score in a variety of ways. He is long and rangy at 6-7, 203. He has struggled shooting the ball this season, hitting only 34% of his shots from the field and 15% of his three-pointers.
Another player to watch is sophomore power forward Dexter Gray. Gray is undersized at 6-7, 214, much like former Tech power forward Bryant Matthews. But he is a tough, physical player who plays with a winning attitude. He can finish around the basket and rebound the basketball, averaging 6.5 points and five rebounds per game this year. He averages 20.5 minutes per game, actually getting more playing time than starting center Aaron Spears. The Red Storm’s best lineup appears to have Lamont Hamilton and Gray in the game together. This lineup makes them smaller, but Gray is much more productive than Aaron Spears.
St. John’s will be playing their first road game of the season, their first six having been played in Carnesecca Arena in Queens. They haven’t shot the ball particularly well in their six home games, hitting just 40.6% of their field goal attempts. They are also just 22.4% from three-point range. But don’t let those stats fool you. They have grabbed 100 offensive rebounds this season, meaning they get a lot of second chances on the offensive end. And if Darryl Hill heats up, the Hokies could be in trouble.
They have been very good defensively this year, holding teams to just 33.2% from the field. They have also been a little lucky. Opposing teams are shooting just 56.8% from the free throw line against the Red Storm.
Norm Roberts is in his second year as head coach at St. John’s and he has done an outstanding job of turning the program around. He has already signed a big-name recruit in Anthony Mason, Jr., and his starting lineup features three juniors, one sophomore and a freshman. St. John’s is solid this season, and they should be even better next year. He is the former associate head coach at Illinois and Kansas under Bill Self. He is used to winning a lot of basketball games.
Roberts will likely direct his team to slow the game down. They will try to force Tech to run slow offensive sets, and the Red Storm will take their time on the offensive end as well. Their games are generally low scoring. Except for the 77 points put up against Maryland-Eastern Shore in the season opener, St. John’s has not scored more than 67 points this season.
That type of slow tempo game allowed St. John’s to hang with Duke last season, despite the wide gap in talent. This year the Red Storm are more talented and deeper. It will be important for the Hokies to not allow them to dictate the tempo of the game. If Tech can get out and run, they will probably win. This game is shaping up to be one of the best in Cassell Coliseum this season.