PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Joel Soriano didn’t pout. He didn’t complain. He listened.
Getting sent to the bench was frustrating. But the new St. John’s big man didn’t take it as an insult. He used it as motivation.
“I knew it was best for the team. I wasn’t playing the way I was supposed to,” Soriano, a Fordham transfer, told The Post in a phone interview. “Nothing is given. I needed to earn my spot back.”
Soriano returned to the starting lineup in a Dec. 18 loss to Pittsburgh. If his recent play is any indication, it appears he plans to stay there. The affable 6-foot-11, 260-pound Yonkers native put together his best performances in his past two games, notching a combined 14 points, 18 rebounds and seven blocked shots in the loss to Pittsburgh and the win over DePaul on Wednesday — the Red Storm’s Big East opener. He has gotten more comfortable in St. John’s uptempo, defense-switching style, and it’s showing. Soriano is thinking less and reacting more.
“Sometimes you start seeing the little light [go on], intensity picks up,” coach Mike Anderson said. “I think he’s picking up on what we’re asking of him. With all the things he was doing in the offseason, hopefully he’s putting it all together. Not only that, he knows he’s a big part of what we’re doing.”
A bout with COVID-19 didn’t curtail Soriano’s momentum. Soriano said he had symptoms and only a few days of workouts before the DePaul game. But he performed well, providing an inside presence at both ends of the floor.
He will really be tested as the schedule heats up. Soriano will face the conference’s two best big men in the next two games for the Red Storm (9-3, 1-0 Big East): Nate Watson and No. 16 Providence on Saturday and Adama Sanogo and Connecticut on Wednesday.
“This is what I came here for,” said Soriano, who is averaging 6.4 points, 6.1 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 17.6 minutes per game. “Doing my research around the league, this is who I knew that was going to be here. I’m excited to be back on the court playing against great players.
“They’re excellent players, I tip my hat to them. But I think I just have to go out there and play my style of baseball, don’t try to do anything different from what I’m doing.”
Soriano’s play has picked up as he has faced better big men. He struggled earlier in the season against smaller teams that dragged him out onto the perimeter and forced him out of his comfort zone. That shouldn’t be an issue in the next two games.
Up first is Watson. He averaged 24.5 points and 6.5 rebounds against St. John’s last season. That Red Storm team, though, didn’t have someone with the strength and physicality Soriano possesses. His arrow seems to be pointing upwards as major challenges await.
“There’s less thinking now,” Anderson said. “He’s actually playing instinctive basketball.”
Senior guard Tareq Coburn (back) and freshman guard Rafael Pinzon (COVID-19 protocols) will be game-time decisions, according to Anderson. Both players missed the DePaul game.
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