Game 1: St. Mary's 76, St. John's 71

The game where #stjbb and Polee became trending topics.

I. Recap | II. The Scoring Desert | III. Keys of the Game Recap | IV. News coverage

I.

Boxscore

With St. John's great Chris Mullin, Steve Lavin's father Cap and mother Mary, and his wife, Mary Ann Jarou in the stands, Steve Lavin tipped off his career as head coach of St. John's. There was a technical - for an errant elbow to DJ Kennedy's face. Mike Dunlap and Tony Chiles gave advice to the coach. Gene Keady came over to calm Lavin down. And St. John's frustrated the St. Mary's Gaels for a half and a little more.

... But they didn't have the firepower to win. Or to score. As a couple of news outlets have pointed out, St. John's managed an un-torrid 40 points in 35 minutes, with poor scoring performances from Kennedy and Dwight Hardy, and were kept in the game by Dwayne Polee's plays - who knew he could shoot like that when left open?

St. Mary's struggled to find shots as well... until Clint Steindl went off like Jon Jacques of Cornell did last year against St. John's. Or like a firecracker you've been holding lit in your hand. He found openings in the corners of the zone and was deadly, hitting 7 of 10 from beyond the arc. He was their offense; the Gaels were forced into turnovers and ugly play by the Red Storm even as he started stroking it.

Note that St. John's extended the game to boos from the home crowd to get the point totals (and possessions) a little higher, to remind the guys how to play hard and sink free throws, and to practice late-game strategy. It benefited St. Mary's backcourt as well; Matthew Dellavedova and Mickey McConnell's scoring totals came mostly from the late game free throws they hit.

It was a rough start. A tough opponent, as stated in the pregame post; but St. John's showed that they still have to overcome a flaw - their lack of players who can consistently get their own shots (and get them to fall).

II. The Mojave Desert of Scoring

Malik Stith put up his points at the end of the game, when the Johnnies extended the proceedings by fouling, and made the score a little more respectable. It's only one game, and against a very good defense. But St. John's lack of offensive creativity was glaring. Even with Dwight Hardy getting the start, none of the players who should be scoring options could get shots up:

DJ Kennedy 1-5, 9 points
Dwight Hardy 1-6, 7 points
Paris Horne 1-2, 2 points
Justin Brownlee 0-3, 1 point
Justin Burrell 1-5, 4 points

During the 7 minute drought, St. John's went 0-7, 0-4 from three-point range, with three turnovers. St. Mary's had some open looks and finally got them to go down, and that was the game.

Burrell and Hardy tried to score. Hardy, in particular, looked out of sync, and possibly like he was pressing at times to get free for a shot. He airballed a shot, slipped on the floor trying to get open - he just had a poor night. Meanwhile, Burrell's post moves were unreliable (though his effort was very good). But DJ Kennedy was frozen out of shooting for much of the game.

Thing is, Kennedy isn't a scorer. DJ is better as a complementary player. He can score off the dribble in short spurts, but he's more of a do-things-right, hit-the-corner-jumper kind of player. And against a defense like St. Mary's, which packs the paint and dares opponents to shoot long twos, he needed to be freed up to score off the bounce to put up points.

Really, none of the Red Storm players are great off the dribble besides Hardy. If these offensive droughts continue, Malik Stith or Quincy Roberts might get a shot in the lineup. At the very least, the staff needs to impress upon the team that more movement off the ball helps them get in positions to score.

And not to take away from Dwayne "Holy" Polee. There is room for improvement on defensive awareness and shooting. Still, on a night where no one could shoot, he took some initiative. Only one dunk, but he made 2 of 5 three-pointers - he's got a lot more game than I thought. He also had two steals out of the Red Storm zone.

This will get better; players will get more used to this style of play, to sharing the ball, to moving on every possession. Last year, they often stood ready to crash the glass while Kennedy or Hardy or Evans dribbled for their shot. This will get better.

III. Keys to the Game

Pregame notes, with original keys to the game and team pluses

Communicate? St. John's did a good job staying with people, covering gaps, and closing out... until Clint Steindl got hot in the end of the first and in the second half (22 points, 7-10 from three-point). That really was the difference in the game, which was slow and ugly for portions - the kind of game the Johnnies needed it to be to have a chance. C

Show the Forwards They’re in the Big Leagues? The Gaels had few offensive rebounds/ second chance points. But the forwards as a whole scored fairly well, going 11-20 from the field (including Rob Jones' jumpers and not including Clint Steindl). B

Stop the 3-Point Shooters? The Red Storm stopped McConnell. They didn't get out on Steindl, and St. Mary's went 10-25, 40%. Given their shooters, that's not a disaster, but it's not great. C+

Score? The Red Storm had a seven minute long scoring drought in the second half; last year's double-digit scorers didn't get the ball in the hole. If not for the surprise performances by Malik Boothe and Dwayne Polee, the game would have a full-on offensive disaster. D

Win the Turnover Battle? The team won the turnover battle by 1; the team was effective in being disruptive. B

IV. News

NY Daily News: St. John's Red Storm blow gave vs St. Mary's Gaels 76-71 in season opener

For the most-part he said it felt like he'd never gotten away from coaching, that the role fit him comfortably. But he also told his players, in his words, "I'm going to get better. We're going to get better collectively. . . . There are things that happened in this experience that will make us a better team."

Lavin wanted this game because he thought it would give his club a "report card." St. Mary's is annually a strong program and went to the Sweet 16 last season, though it graduated a number of key players. "Playing five or six patsies out of the gate and blitzing them by 30 or 40 does nothing for the growth of your team," he explained. "These games are really where you take quantum leaps."

They need a quantum leap. Lavin said that while his team deserved an 'A-' for togetherness and competitive spirit it rated "a C or C-" for execution.

NY Post: St. Mary's sinks St. John's, 76-71

Lavin started true freshman Dwyane Polee Jr. along with seniors Malik Boothe, Dwight Hardy, Justin Brownlee and D.J. Kennedy. He played a matchup zone defense and St. John's played with the level of intensity instilled by former coach Norm Roberts.

Unfortunately for the Red Storm they also suffered their notorious offensive lulls, which turn wins into losses. St. John's scored just nine points in the first 15 minutes and 35 seconds of the second half, as St. Mary's opened a 53-40 lead.

SF Chronicle: Gaels hold off St. John's

Mercury News: Saint Mary's beats St. John's 76-71 in front of late-night national audience (with postgame video interview of Steidl)

AP: St. Mary's beats St. John's, spoils Lavin's return

Today, the team flies home. Tomorrow, they face Columbia University, the Ivy school whose new coach was a longtime assistant at St. Mary's. Check back here for pregame notes later this evening or tomorrow morning.

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