Mike Anderson would probably prefer if St. John's won games in less chaotic fashion.
But three straight comebacks from double-digit deficits have Anderson confident this could be the St. John's team he's been trying to build for more than three years.
St. John's will look to remain perfect Saturday afternoon, when the Red Storm host Niagara in a nonconference game at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y.
St. John's last played Tuesday, when the Red Storm outlasted former conference foe Syracuse 76-69 in overtime of the championship game of the Empire Classic at Barclays Center. Niagara rolled to a home win Wednesday night, when the Purple Eagles beat Division II D'Youville 91-53.
The win over Syracuse improved St. John's to 6-0, its best start since Chris Mullin's last team opened 12-0 on the way to Red Storm's most recent NCAA Tournament appearance in 2018-19.
The Red Storm also continued displaying the type of resilience that will be necessary to win the school's first NCAA Tournament game since the spring of 2000. St. John's, which overcame a 10-point first half deficit in a 70-50 win over Nebraska on Nov. 17 and trailed by 13 in the first half of a 78-72 win over Temple on Monday night, fell behind by 11 in the first half Tuesday and was down 10 with 15 minutes to play.
"They're gritty -- I love grittiness," Anderson said. "We've got more guys making plays -- winning plays -- when it's crunch time."
Niagara (3-2), which was picked to finish tied for eighth in the 11-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, has won three straight, tied for its longest winning streak under fourth-year head coach Greg Paulus.
The Purple Eagles lost their top three scorers from last season -- including Marcus Hammond, who averaged a team-high 18.1 points per game before heading to Notre Dame as a graduate student -- but hope they began building some chemistry during the MAAC/Atlantic Sun Dublin Basketball Challenge in Ireland late last week. Niagara beat Central Arkansas 73-64 on Nov. 18 before edging Stetson 66-62 the next day.
"I thought it was a really good experience for this group -- with 10 new guys, having a chance to spend that type of time on the court, off the court," Paulus said following the win over Division II D'Youville. "Obviously we got to play some games and practice a little bit more."
The game Saturday will be the first between the schools in almost seven years but the 101st all-time in a rivalry that dates to 1909. St. John's leads the series 73-27 and won the most recent meeting on Dec. 9, 2015, when the Red Storm edged Niagara, 48-44. The Purple Eagles' most recent win was a 77-73 victory on Dec 15, 2007.
--Field Level Media
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