The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team shocked Division I St. John's University, 90-58, in the season's exhibition opener at Carnesecca Arena. Justin Reyes paced the dominant effort with a game-high 25 points and 12 rebounds as the Spartans jumped to an early lead with an up tempo and never looked back. East Coast Conference preseason Player of the Year Chaz Watler chipped in with with 18 and James Mitchell added 13 for St. Thomas Aquinas.
A year ago, St. Thomas Aquinas raised some eyebrows in their preseason tilt against the Red Storm, opening an early nine-point lead before falling to a 97-71 defeat. The visitors would get off to a similar start on Wednesday night, but there would be no stopping the charging Spartans this time around.
After trailing by a 5-4 margin in the opening minutes, Sam Berlin's bucket gave St. Thomas Aquinas a lead it would not relinquish, touching off a stunning 14-0 run over a span of 3:24. Mitchell followed Berlin's hoop with a three-pointer, and Aaron Cust attacked the hoop for a pair of lay-ups in keying the outburst.
Cust would later add a trey to boost the lead to 22-6, putting a cap on his team's 18-1 run. St. John's would run off the next eight points to draw to within 24-14 on a Frederico Mussini basket midway through the half, but Watler ran off the next five points and Reyes took charge in the final minutes of the first half, staking the visitors to a 50-34 lead at the break, with Watler closing the half with a pair from downtown.
Reyes and Watler would impress the large Queens crowd in the second half, combining to score the Spartans' first 12 points (Reyes with seven, Watler with five), and Jonathan Lawton's bullseye from deep with 13:23 left staked STAC to a gaudy 65-44 chasm. St. John's would not make a serious run from there, as the Spartans lead was never below 20 from that point.
Mitchell added seven assists and four steals to his strong performance, with Watler matching that game-high total in steals. Mussini led three scorers in double-figures for the Red Storm, joined by Christian Jones (13 points) and Malik Ellison (10).
St. Thomas Aquinas forced 27 St. John's turnovers, resulting in 32 points and a 48% figure from the field (36-75), as the home squad was held to just 37% (18-49). STAC was also torrid from beyond the arc, shooting 47% (8-for-17) to just 23% (6-26) for SJU. Perhaps most surprisingly, St. Thomas Aquinas won the battle of the boards, outrebounding their Big East opponents by a total of 43-41.
The Spartans return to action in another exhibition test against a Division I foe on Friday, November 6, traveling to face the University of Rhode Island before officially opening the 2015-16 season with the Spartan Invitational on Saturday and Sunday, November 14 and 15. STAC hosts St. Michael's College in Saturday's opener with an 8:00 pm tipoff, and Sunday's action will wrap up with a 4:30 contest against St. Anselm's College.
- Steve Balsan, St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Information
- Photo by Dorice Arden