New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The St. John's Red Storm will be enjoying some home cooking on Friday night, as they go up against 10th-ranked Gonzaga in the title game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden.
The Red Storm, who play some of their regular season games in the World's Most Famous Arena, are off to a 4-0 start to the 2014-15 campaign as they go up against an undefeated Bulldogs squad. Two days ago, St. John's advanced to the championship round of the tournament by taking out Minnesota by a score of 70-61.
With the victory in the semifinals, the Red Storm are off to their best start since they opened 6-0 during the 2009-10 campaign.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are doing exactly what was to be expected of a top-10 program, plowing through the competition and winning every game by double figures. The first four wins of the campaign came at home in Washington, the other coming two nights ago versus Georgia (88-76) at the Garden.
Gonzaga leads the all-time series by a count of 3-1, a relationship that dates back to 1960 when the Red Storm won the first meeting, 97-69. The latest clash took place in 2011 during the NCAA Tournament's second round in Denver, Colorado.
The Bulldogs scored the first points of the game against Georgia and never looked back, converting 50.0 percent from the floor and outscoring the other Bulldogs by 10 at the free-throw line, en route to the 12-point victory. Kyle Wiltjer scored 32 points as he accounted for half of the team's 52 field goal attempts, followed by Kevin Pangos with 22 points, to go along with six assists and three steals. Byron Wesley missed five of his six shots from the floor, but countered with a 10-of-12 effort at the stripe in order to finish with 12 points.
Thanks to some lopsided blowouts, the Bulldogs are generating a hefty 93.4 ppg at the moment, shooting 55.1 percent from the field, which is considerably higher than the 33.8 percent accuracy of the opponents. Wiltjer is one of five players in double figures with his 16.8 ppg, followed by Pangos and Wesley with 12.6 and 12.4 ppg, respectively. In addition to being a 56.3 percent shooter out on the perimeter, Pangos has also issued 29 assists for a squad that has a better than 2-to-1 assist to turnover ratio.
Unlike Minnesota, the Red Storm have an intimate knowledge of MSG and made sure that they benefited from that as they claimed the nine-point win on Wednesday night. D'Angel Harrison came up a rebound shy of a double-double as he tallied a game-high 19 points and while he shot only 5-of-17 from the field, he made up for that lackluster effort by registering six steals. Rysheed Jordan filled his stat line with 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, followed by Chris Obekpa with 10 points and nine boards.
St. John's, which logged a staggering 16 steals against Minnesota, has been focusing quite a bit on defense in the early going. Opponents have converted only 34.5 percent of their field goal attempts and are turning the ball over an average of just over 14 times per contest. From an offensive standpoint, Harrison is responsible for 18.5 ppg and Jordan another 17.5 ppg for a squad that is outscoring the competition by 13.6 ppg at this stage of the campaign.