In a game featuring the likes of D’Angelo Harrison, Phil Greene, Jason Calliste and Ray McCallum, one would in all likelihood find it safe to assume that Tuesday’s matchup between St. John’s and Detroit would more or less be decided by the play around the perimeter, right?
No easy buckets against Obekpa and the Red Storm. (Credit: Vinny Dusovic, St. John’s Athletics)
In his first regular season game on the sidelines in nearly a year after missing most of the 2011-2012 season while recovering from prostate cancer, Steve Lavin returned. As did the guard tandem of Greene and Harrison, the latter of the two coming off the bench. The duo hoisted up 29 shots between them Tuesday, connecting on 14 for a combined 44 points.The man who stole the show, however, and led the Red Storm to a season-opening 77-74 win over Detroit in Queens, New York, attempted only six shots. He converted on three.
His name is Chris Obekpa and, despite registering just seven points against the Titans, the Centereach, N.Y. native displayed on national television as part of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon that he ought not be overlooked in favor of fellow freshmen Nerlens Noel (UK) on the defensive end of the floor, as he proved to be a real game changer for St. John’s Tuesday afternoon.
To complement his seven points, Obekpa, who was first off the bench along with Harrison for the Red Storm, finished with 11 rebounds, eight of which came on the defensive end, two steals and a team-record eight blocked shots. His real impact became evident in the second half.
With 18:14 remaining in St. John’s season-opener, Obekpa checked in, his team down 41-34. Lavin ultimately switched from a man-to-man defense to a 3-2 zone and that’s when it all began to go down hill for head coach Ray McCallum, Sr.’s Detroit team.
Obekpa, a top 60 recruit in this year’s freshmen class according to Rivals.com, never saw the pine for the remainder of the contest and racked up four of his eight blocked shots in helping St. John’s on a 43-34 run to close out the game. Obekpa was extremely active, altering shots left and right, but managed to lead a disciplined frontcourt in the final frame, as the Titans got to the line just six times, converting on only four attempts from the charity stripe.
Few coaches get giddy with excitement when they look at a roster consisting of 11 underclassmen, four freshmen and seven sophomores. But with perimeter threats in Greene and Harrison and, if Tuesday’s game against the Titans was any indication at all, a legitimate defensive presence on the low post in Obekpa, Lavin may have a formidable trio of players to build upon going forward in an ever-changing Big East Conference.
Just don’t ever look for Obekpa to steal the spotlight offensively. With defensive efforts like the one we saw against Detroit, there’s no need.
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