Welcome to Queens, Vince Cole. The junior college All-American might already be a fan favorite.
The 6-foot-5 wing’s 3-pointer with 8.5 seconds left saved sluggish St. John’s from a dismal season-opening defeat, lifting the heavily favored Johnnies over Saint Peter’s, 76-75, to open the season.
Trailing by four with under half a minute remaining, Cole drove baseline to cut the deficit to two with 17.6 seconds left and after Posh Alexander’s chase-down steal, Cole drilled the game-winner on a feed from Greg Williams Jr.
The newcomers — Cole, Alexander, Dylan Wusu and Isaih Moore — carried the Johnnies. The quartet scored the team’s final 22 points. For most of the night, Alexander, the freshman point guard from Brooklyn, was the story, producing 16 points, seven rebounds, five steals and two assists. Moore had 12 points and nine rebounds. Wusu, another freshman, was a two-way factor. But it was Cole who made the comeback possible, scoring a team-high 21 points.
Cole’s heroics in the final seconds saved what was an extremely uneven performance from St. John’s, which led by eight early in the second half and was outplayed much of the final 20 minutes.
St. John’s clearly missed sophomore star Julian Champagnie (ankle), shooting just 30 percent in the second half. But it was the Red Storm’s defense — their calling card in Mike Anderson’s first season a year ago — that left so much to be desired. They allowed Saint Peter’s to shoot 51 percent from the field and hammer them in the paint, 38-24.
The Johnnies missed 15 of their first 18 shots of the second stanza, many of them shots in the paint, and found themselves behind by three with 6:27 to go. They got even on a Cole 3-pointer with 4:49 left and went ahead on two Moore free throws with 4:09 left.
Saint Peter’s seemed to be in control after Matthew Lee pushed the lead to four with 28 seconds to go. But that’s when Cole took over, scoring the game’s final five points, and making sure St. John’s wouldn’t lose its first home opener since 2003.