By Megan Dierberger
The St. John’s basketball team has a chance to redeem itself this Saturday.
The Johnnies will face Bethel University for the first time since the Royals defeated SJU in the 2017 MIAC championship game.
Ranked No. 20 by D3hoops.com, the Johnnies are 2-1 overall this season and have two impressive victories on the resume.
SJU won its first two games at the Husky Hoopster Class against St. Scholastica (94-71) and St. Cloud State (73-67). They fell to University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a 65-63 loss last Wednesday, Nov. 22.
St. John’s is picked to win the conference title in the MIAC Preseason Coaches’ poll.
Senior forward Tyler Weiss, leads the Johnnies with 48 points, or 16 points per game.
“Being picked to win is a lot of pressure at first, but I think it’s good for us and good for our development. It puts a huge target on our back and makes everyone play their best against us, so we get everyone’s best. It makes for a better competition,” Weiss said.
As the Johnnies approach their home-opener, the devastating MIAC championship loss will be in the back of each player’s mind.
On Feb. 25 of last season, No. 2 seeded Bethel defeated No. 4 seeded St. John’s in the last minute of the game to clinch a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
David Stokman gave the Johnnies a late 75-74 lead with a three-point play, but Bethel snagged the game away with free throws in the final minute to win 79-75.
Stokman, the junior guard, was named a D3hoops.com pre-season All-American for this season.
“Overall, we all remember it being a disappointment. It was fun to get there; we hadn’t been there in a little awhile. Everyone got a good taste of what it’s like to play in a game like that. It made us hungry and ready to get back at it,” Stokman said.
This year, the Bethel Royals are 4-0 overall and are not nationally ranked by D3hoops.com. Saturday’s game will be both team’s first jab at a conference game. Although the polls are in their favor, the Johnnies will be careful to stay composed against Bethel.
“The biggest thing is communication. To keep optimism up, we have to keep talking and keep people’s spirits up,” Weiss said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game, but we have to keep positive through the ups and downs of the game.”
“Our strength is in our numbers. We have a really good team top to bottom. All 15-16 guys can really go, so that helps keep practices competitive and pushes guys,” Stokman said.
St. John’s takes on Bethel on its home court at 1 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2.