Joel Soriano and St. John’s face their toughest test of the young season Monday against upstart Temple in a semifinal matchup at the Empire Classic in New York.
St. John’s (4-0) remained perfect Thursday when it defeated visiting Nebraska 70-50. The Red Storm trailed by seven points at halftime, but closed out the Cornhuskers with a 50-23 second-half advantage.
Starting center Soriano set career highs in points (17) and rebounds (18), adding three blocked shots. Coach Mike Anderson said Soriano was upset with himself for not reaching double-digit boards in St. John’s previous game and vowed to get 20 against Nebraska.
“Our guys recognize that you know what, we’ve got an advantage with him,” Anderson said. “Especially when he’s playing with that kind of energy. I thought he played really long today — he played with length as opposed to just using his size. … He started the game off blocking shots. So you could see he was really engaged in the game.”
When the Red Storm head to the Barclays Center to begin this tournament, they’ll be preparing for a Temple group that’s taken down then-No. 16 Villanova and Rutgers, two teams that made the 2022 NCAA Tournament in March.
The Owls (2-2) faced Rutgers Friday in a neutral-court game and led most of the way en route to a 72-66 victory. Khalif Battle came off the bench to play 32 minutes and score a game-high 24 points.
“I’ve been trying to get him to be more of a leader and to just organize us more and he made some huge plays down the stretch,” coach Aaron McKie said, per the Temple News.
Battle (15.8) is one of four double-digit scorers for Temple. Sophomore Damian Dunn leads the way at 24.0 points per game, bolstered by a 38-point showing in an overtime loss to Vanderbilt last week.
Likewise, Soriano (12.8) is one of four Red Storm players averaging double figures, led by David Jones’ 17.8 ppg.
The winner of this game will face the winner between Syracuse and Richmond in the tournament’s championship game Tuesday night.