Mike Anderson’s first game in Queens featured about 40 seconds of hell.
Making his unofficial St. John’s debut with only two significant contributors back from last season’s NCAA Tournament team, Anderson’s first year as Red Storm coach flashed before his eyes when star senior Mustapha Heron hit the floor and clutched his right hip, writhing in pain late in the first half of Wednesday’s 94-59 exhibition win over Queens College at Carnesecca Arena.
“The floor was wet, and I just slipped and did like a little half-split,” Heron said. “It scared me for a second.”
After nearly a minute on the ground, Heron was able to walk off the floor under his own power and went back to the locker room. The 6-foot-5 wing returned to the court in the second half and said his hip wouldn’t be an issue once the season starts.
“Knock on wood, thank goodness he was OK,” Anderson said. “He’s huge in what we do.”
Heron didn’t produce the only scare of the night.
Four years after Chris Mullin infamously kicked off his coaching career with a 32-point exhibition loss to Division II St. Thomas Aquinas, Anderson followed his predecessor’s footsteps a little too closely.
Five minutes into the campus’ first look at the new-look team, St. John’s trailed the Division II school — which went 7-21 last season — by nine. Then, Anderson’s patented defensive pressure picked up. The Red Storm went on a 13-0 run, taking a 48-26 halftime lead, and finished with 22 turnovers forced.
“One of the things I can’t knock is their effort. I thought their effort was tremendous,” Anderson said. “We have a lot of pieces, and all we’re trying to do is put these pieces together. … You only learn in game settings. We’re learning to become the team we want to be.”
Because Anderson brought back a pair of preseason All-Big East second-team selections in Heron (25 points) and LJ Figueroa (28 points), St. John’s can be competitive in the Big East. But exceeding the predicted ninth-place finish will require much more.
Josh Roberts showed the potential to fill a strong supporting role, flashing his athleticism, shot-blocking and ability to finish at the rim. The 6-9 forward, who was limited to 6.3 minutes per game as a freshman under Mullin, finished with 14 points.
“We know LJ and Mustapaha, they’re capable of getting some big numbers, but it’s good to see Josh continue to be consistent in his play,” said Anderson, whose team opens the regular season next Wednesday against Mercer. “[Roberts] gotta be one of those guys that can play off of those guys. … That’s gonna be his role to be an energy guy. … As we get into the real season now, we’ll see if that continues.
“It’s not gonna be just a two-man team. That’s been our message since I’ve been here. We’ve gotta have other guys step up.”
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