It’s tough to find much silver lining in a game where you shoot 33 percent from the field as a team – and almost as bad, 55 percent, from the free throw line – but St. John’s was fortunate enough to escape their season debut at Madison Square Garden Saturday night, with a 68-57 win over wannabe inner city rival Fordham.
Of course with Steve Lavin’s Red Storm shooting so poorly, he’d need a superb effort on the defensive end if he wanted any chance of leaving the Garden with his head held high, and that’s just what he got. Not only did St. John’s matchup zone defense cause Fordham to commit a costly 22 turnovers, but the Rams shot the ball even worse than their opponents, shooting a measly 29 percent from the field.
As remarkable as JaKarr Sampsons 3 blocks and 3 steals were, not to mention D’Angelo Harrison’s 5 steal effort, no player made the defensive impact that freshman sensation Chris Obekpa made, not Saturday, and not really ever before in St. John’s history.
Obekpa broke his own school-record of 8 blocks, with an absurd 11-block effort! “I’ve been waiting for this moment ever since I could remember,” said Obekpa after his unforgettable debut at the world’s most famous arena. “That’s one of the things that made me come to St. John’s.”
Currently third in the NCAA in blocked shots per game behind Kansas’s Jeff Withey and Arizona State’s Jordan Bachynski, Obekpa has quickly made a name for himself as one of the premier shot-blockers in the nation, having blocked 5 or more shots in five of the team’s first ten games.
Obekpa’s play has set the tone for the Johnnies on the defensive end, and his coach is beyond impressed. “I’ve never in my 25 years as a coach — assistant coach, head coach, broadcaster, back to head coach — I’ve never seen anybody quite like Chris,” said Lavin. “Because he doesn’t have the 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler size. But the combination of his basketball intellect, and his length and timing, is what separate him from anyone I’ve seen.”
Obekpa continues to outdo himself, but hopefully, his teammates won’t need double-digit block performances from him to compensate for awful shooting nights moving forward.
For those wondering, the all-time single-game block record is sixteen, which was set by Alabama A&M’s Mickell Gladness back in February of 2007 against Texas Southern. Keep your eyes on that record for as long as Obekpa’s playing in Queens.
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