COLLEGEVILLE – St. Cloud State was just a little too tall for St. John’s Friday night.
The Huskies used their height to their advantage in a 67-48 nonconference win over crosstown rival St. John’s in front of 2,889 fans at Sexton Arena. It was the first regular season game of the season for both teams.
St. Cloud State was credited with nine blocked shots, but it looked like there was more than that in a game that wasn’t really in doubt after a strong run at the end of the first half.
James Fort led the Huskies with four blocks while 6-foot-10 backup center Chris Larson had three. The Johnnies had a hard time getting shots off in the lane against those two.
“It was different being the biggest guy out there,” said Larson, who transferred from Division I Oregon and had 10 points. “Some of the guys on St. John’s were a little bigger weight-wise than what I was used to. I just tried to play to my strengths and tried to avoid contact. It was easy for me.”
St. John’s 6-foot-5 forward Chris Neumann, who led his team with 10 points and six rebounds, said it wasn’t easy trying to get his shot off against Larson and the 6-6 Fort, who had eight points.
“We’re not used to going up against that size in practice,” Neumann said. “It’s a different feel when you’re going up against guys who are 6-6 or bigger. It makes it tough to score and tough on the defensive end.
“The good part is that we probably won’t see size again like that again all year. The bad part is we didn’t handle it very well.”
St. John’s head coach Jim Smith said SCSU’s height and length definitely affected the Johnnies.
“It said they had nine blocks, but I swear they had more,” Smith said. “We’d go in for a good shot, then all of a sudden it was just wham. We’d get an offensive rebound and we couldn’t get the shot back up. The ball would get blocked or deflected out of bounds.”
St. John’s stuck with the Huskies deep into the first half. The Johnnies tied the game at 18 after a three-pointer from Seth Marx with 5:29 to play.
That’s when St. Cloud State woke up. The Huskies ended the half on a 19-4 run, which included an 11-0 spurt from the 5:11 to 2:08 marks.
“This is our big rivalry game and we knew they were going to come out with a lot of energy,” said SCSU senior forward Theo Rothstein, who led his team with 16 points. “We did what we had to do in the second half to get the win.
“It’s good playing on front of a crowd like this. I think I heard my sister’s name yelled at me a couple of times. We pulled through it, though.”
St. Cloud State point guard Shaun Jensen had two three-point plays and a pull-up jumper in the final 5:11 of the half. Jensen finished with 13 points and six assists.
“We had a nice spurt there at the end of the first half and it was primarily because Jensen started to take control and attack the basket,” St. Cloud State head coach Kevin Schlagel said. “We were playing a lot on the perimeter and as a result we were missing a lot of shots. It was nice to see him take control of the game at that point and give us the lead.”
St. Cloud State shot 13 three-pointers in the first half. The Huskies finished shooting 20 for the game.
“We’re a pretty good three-point shooting team,” Schlagel said. “What we have to do is learn what is a good three and what is a bad three. We had some poor attempts in the first half. We just have to be a little more patient and settle down.”
The Huskies held the Johnnies to 30 percent shooting, including 17.6 percent from three-point range. St. John’s won the battle on the boards 48-37. St. John’s had 20 offensive rebounds compared to 11 for SCSU.
St. Cloud State also forced 19 turnovers and had a 24-13 scoring edge off those miscues.
The Huskies hit the road for two games at Florida Southern University in Lakeland, Fla., on Friday and Saturday. St. Cloud State plays Florida Southern on Friday and St. Joseph’s (Ind.) on Saturday.
“These two teams are notoriously two of the better teams in Division II,” Rothstein said. “We’re going to go down there and see what we’re made of. This win was a nice start for us and we want to keep the momentum going.”
Said Schlagel: “These are two really good teams. They were both in the NCAA Tournament last year. One was 24-10 and the other was 24-6. They both have outstanding programs. That’s why we wanted to go down there. We want to compete against the best competition possible.”
ST. CLOUD STATE (67)
Shaun Jensen 4-11 5-5 13 (6 assists), Damarius Cruz 2-6 0-0 6, Theo Rothstein 5-8 5-6 16, Connor Niehaus 2-5 0-0 6 (7 rebounds), James Fort 3-6 2-2 8 (4 blocks), Kevin Levandoski 0-3 0-0 0, Jordan Poydras 0-4 0-0 0, Preston McCourt 0-0 0-0 0, Kenquane Brown 1-2 1-2 3, Jon Christensen 1-4 0-0 2, Tyson Kalien 0-1 0-0 0, Scott Hawkins 1-1 0-0 3, Chris Larson 4-8 2-2 10 (3 blocks). FG 23-59, FT 15-17, REB 37, PF 16, TO 12.
ST. JOHN’S (48)
Jack Wittenborg 2-3 1-2 6, Kevin McKenzie 0-5 0-0 0 (3 assists), Mitchell Kuck 0-2 0-2 0, Chris Neumann 5-12 0-2 10, Seth Marx 3-9 0-0 7, Alex Schmitt 1-5 2-2 4, Patrick Butcher 1-4 0-0 2, Joe Risinger 3-7 2-2 9, Sam Dittberner 0-0 1-2 1, Amemou Jean-Baptiste 1-2 0-0 2, Nick Meyer 0-3 2-4 2, Luke Januschka 1-1 0-0 2, Dominic Devine 0-0 0-0 0, Trevor O’Brien 0-3 0-0 0, Jacob Peterson 1-2 1-2 3, Chris Orgas 0-2 0-0 0. Totals: FG 18-60, FT 9-18, REB 47, PF 12, TO 19.
Three-pointers: SC 6-20 (Jensen 0-1, Cruz 2-5, Rothstein 1-3, Niehaus 2-4, Levandoski 0-2, Poydras 0-1, Christensen 0-2, Kalien 0-1, Hawkins 1-1); SJU 3-17 (Wittenborg 1-2, Kuck 0-1, Marx 1-5, Schmitt 0-2, Butcher 0-2, Risinger 1-2, Meyer 0-1, O’Brien 0-2). Fouled out: none. Deadball rebounds: SJU 5, SC 0. Points in the paint: SC 26, SJU 20. Points off turnovers: SC 24, SJU 13. Second-chance points: SC 15, SJU 5. Fast-break points: SC 2, SJU 0. Bench points: SJU 25, SC 18. A: 2,889.