St. John’s basketball: Joel Soriano uses motivation for huge second half in opener

St. John's basketball center Joel Soriano (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports)
St. John's basketball center Joel Soriano (Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports) /

St. John’s basketball center Joel Soriano used extra motivation in the season opener. 

There wasn’t anything particularly wrong or troublesome with the first half that St. John’s basketball center Joel Soriano put together in the Red Storm’s season opener on Tuesday night against Stony Brook.

One of the two returning Johnnies from last season had six points and two rebounds in 18 minutes on the court as St. John’s led by 11, 41-30, but he looked like a different animal in the second half thanks to his Hall of Fame head coach, Rick Pitino.

“Coach Pitino said some things to me,” Soriano, a Preseason First Team All-Big East selection, said of the Johnnies locker room at halftime.

“It got me fired up and I came out with better energy.”

Pitino, in his first game as the head coach of the Johnnies, pushed all the right buttons in the 90-74 victory.

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Soriano went for 16 points and nine rebounds, including two 3-pointers, after halftime to finish the night with a double-double of 22 points and 11 rebounds.

“I just told him he was out of shape for missing practice. I told him, ‘You have to dig in…we need you,'” Pitino recalled of his message to his captain.

The reasoning for Soriano being out of shape, however, was understandable to Pitino as the 6-foot-11 center was kept out of practice for a week with plantar fasciitis and a bad calf.

St. John’s basketball center gets motivation from familiar face

The motivation from Rick Pitino was not the only factor in Joel Soriano’s second half resurgence as his former St. John’s teammate, Julian Champagnie, was sitting courtside as his San Antonio Spurs are in town to play the New York Knicks and Soriano knew he had to put Champagnie’s doubts to rest.

Soriano, with 13:18 left in the second half, pushed the St. John’s lead to 20 points, 63-43, with his first career 3-pointer which triggered a timeout from Stony Brook.

Champagnie stared down Soriano on his way back to the bench as he pointed at him on his walk to the sideline.

“He said that I couldn’t shoot, so, that was really for him,” Soriano said of his exchanges with Champagnie.

Rick Pitino said throughout the offseason that he wanted Soriano to take 3-point shots this season and he delivered.

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“Every single day, Monday through Friday, he’s taking 400 or 500 [3-pointers],” Pitino explained.

“I was real happy…He didn’t hesitate, he didn’t think about it.”

Soriano would make his second 3-pointer of the night four minutes later.

“He came into the locker room [after the game] and let everyone know that he’s going to be taking all the 3’s going forward,” Chris Ledlum joked.

“Right now I’m 100-percent,” Soriano chimed in of his career 3-point shooting percentage.

Ledlum also finished with a double-double of 16 points and 14 rebounds on 7-of-15 shooting, 2-of-3 from 3-point range.

St. John’s (1-0) will take a major rise in competition on Monday night when the Red Storm make its season debut inside Madison Square Garden against the Michigan Wolverines (1-0).

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