Following their hard-fought overtime win at Rutgers Saturday, the Bearcats return home to begin a brief two-game homestand against the St. John's Red Storm (10-12, 4-7).
The Bearcats will not only be looking to further their ever-increasing chances of making the Big East Tournament, but they will be seeking to exact revenge for their 70-58 loss at St. John's back in early January. Since that game, the Bearcats have continued to improve and grow as a team, while the Johnnies come into Fifth Third Arena on a three-game win streak and will also be looking to improve their chances for the Big East Tournament.
In the first matchup January 5, Anthony Mason Jr. led St. John's with 17 points, including 12 in the second half propelling the Red Storm to victory. However, due to a nagging ankle injury, Mason might miss this rematch – he has missed the last two games against Rutgers and Providence. If Mason does play Wednesday, the Bearcats are going to have to keep him under wraps and not let him get hot like he did in the first meeting. In all likelihood, even if Mason does play, he won't be at 100% and won't be as effective.
6-8 freshman forward Justin Burrell will be the player St. John's looks to for added production in the absence of Mason. In the first meeting, Burrell scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds. In their win over Providence Saturday, the Red Storm ran everything through Burrell before anyone else. With fellow freshman Sean Evans coming on strong, it gives St. John's a talented frontcourt duo. Evans, who scored zero points with two rebounds in the first meeting, has started to come on of late, including 12 points and nine rebounds against Providence Saturday. Evans is still only averaging 3.1 points per game, which isn't very impressive, but he clearly has the talent to produce. The biggest problem for Evans is the free throw line – he is shooting a very poor .278 (10-of-36) at the charity stripe.
Tomas Jasiulionis and Rob Thomas get 12 and seven minutes respectively each game, but neither is a threat on the offensive end. Jasiulionis averages 2.2 points, and was shut out in the first meeting in eight minutes. Thomas averages 2.8 and scored four points in 12 minutes in the first meeting.
The Red Storm's most dangerous backcourt threat doesn't even start. 6-2 sophomore guard Larry Wright is the team's third-leading scorer at 9.7 per game in only 19.8 minutes. Saturday, however, Wright led the team with 16 points in 30 minutes, and in the first meeting, Wright scored nine points – all from behind the three-point arc. On the year, Wright has taken a team-high 105 three point shots, making 41 (.390). Of late, the Bearcats as a team have done a much better job of defending the three point shot.
Senior point guard Eugene Lawrence makes things happen for the Red Storm. He averages 8.6 points and 3.6 assists per game. In the first meeting, Lawrence scored 12 points but only took four shots from the floor. He went 7-for-10 at the foul line, further showing Lawrence's ability to create contact - his 86 foul shots are a team high.
Joining Lawrence in the backcourt are D.J. Kennedy and Malik Boothe. Kennedy, a 6-6 freshman, is averaging 8.3 points and pulling down 6.5 rebounds per night. In the first meeting, the Bearcats were unable to keep Kennedy from getting to the goal as he scored 13 points, including 5-of-6 from the foul line. He also pulled down eight rebounds in the St. John's win. Boothe, a 5-9 freshman, is struggling with inconsistency like most freshmen. He is only averaging three points per game, but scored six in the win over Providence with an impressive six assists. In the first meeting, Boothe was held scoreless in nine minutes.
The only other backcourt player who sees much time is 6-3 freshman Paris Horne, who gets 14.4 minutes per night, but only scores 4.3 points. He was held scoreless in just five minutes in the first meeting.
Although this game seems winnable on the surface, the Bearcats have not done well playing "down" to their competition this year. They need only look at the game tape from the first meeting with St. John's for proof. John Williamson was the key to the Rutgers win Saturday.
For the Bearcats to keep up their winning ways, he is going to have to continue his stellar play. A big motivational factor for the Bearcats will be to revenge last month's embarrassing loss to the Red Storm. However, the biggest factor might be the chance to even their season record at 12-12 which would have seemed impossible in December.