CHARLOTTE, N.C. (CBSNewYork/AP) — St. John’s coach Steve Lavin said that while center Chris Obekpa’s suspension is “less than ideal,” he still believes the Red Storm has what it takes to overcome the shot blocker’s absence in the NCAA Tournament.
“We have had a number of stretches where we have had to play without Chris and been successful,” Lavin said Thursday at press conference.
The Red Storm, the ninth seed in the South region, faces No. 8 seed San Diego State on Friday in Charlotte.
“Whether it was through foul trouble, being disqualified for a game or for a number of injuries he’s endured, this team has found a way to offset the loss the Chris in games and stretches of the season and still been successful,” Lavin said. “With that said, we understand with not having Chris at the goal as our protector will make it difficult for us.”
The 6-foot-10 Obekpa started 24 of 30 games for St. John’s (21-11) this season, averaging 5.8 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game. His 321 career blocks are the most in school history.
Obekpa’s loss made St. John’s bid to win its first NCAA Tournament game since 2000 a little more difficult.
“This is a group that knows how to problem-solve, persevere and make adjustments,” Lavin told WFAN’s Mike Francesa on Tuesday. “That’s one of the advantages of having a number of older players who have been through the battles of college basketball.”
For key seniors D’Angelo Harrison, Sir’Dominic Pointer, Phil Greene and Jamal Branch, Friday night’s game represents their last chance to advance in the dance.
“Here we are, four years later,” Lavin told Francesa. “There’s no greater reward, nothing more gratifying, than seeing a group of seniors punch across that finish line and get to participate in March Madness.”