Game 6: St. John's 69, Wagner 61

The game where nothing quite fell into rhythm, despite the win.

I. Recap | II. Turnover Dependency | III. Keys of the Game Recap | IV. News coverage

Boxscore

I. Recap

On a certain level, there are reasons to ignore the results from the game. The team is coming off of a lot of travel, 3 games in 4 days in Alaska. They're getting used to the coaching staff. They had an off night.

Maybe the Wagner Seahawks - who are 60% towards their meager win total of all of last year (3 wins in 2010 so far) are just good and well-coached.

Maybe the Red Storm are just a touch flawed, both in what the players are doing now (some missed free throws by Paris Horne and Justin Burrell, the jump shooting) and in the pressure scheme.

To be sure, the game wasn't a disaster. The team was outshot by Latif Rivers and Wagner (Wagner's effective field goal percentage (EfG): 48%; St. John's: 38.5%) and allowed solid rebounding from Wagner, but forced enough turnovers and got enough easy scores to make up the difference.

That halfcourt attack needs work, energy, help.

Lavin, in the postgame interview, addressed the half court offense:Paris Horne vs Wagner from red Storm Sports

"There are stretches where we don’t have rhythm and offense is rhythm. We struggle at times, whether it’s pushing the ball initially, becoming stagnant on the half court and other times I feel we lose confidence and become hesitant. Hesitation on offense will kill you. You want your player aggressive, but also playing with a level of intelligence and making good decisions at high speeds and under tough conditions. There are times we kind of lack rhythm or cohesiveness and other times it’s confidence....

"The one thing I am really pleased with is our low number of turnovers. We are consistently at 10 turnovers or less.... That’s one of the real positives, even though we are struggling with our rhythm and confidence; we are taking care of the basketball."

I think that Wagner is going to be a surprise team; they have already exceeded expectations, and their talent is very young. I see a bright future for them, and their star Tyler Murray (32.4% of the shots taken, EfG =56.6%; 4-4 free throws, 5 rebounds, 3 assists). And St. John's pulled out the win, even when they weren't balling at their best.

 

II. Turnover Dependency

Latif Rivers, Wagner. From Wagner AthleticsThere was a choice of aspects to discuss - the poor jump shooting, the small lineup and player benchings (more in the News section), the free throw shooting... but what stood out to me is how St. John's couldn't stop Wagner without the turnovers. The Seahawks hit their free throws, rebounded pretty well given the talent disparity, and got a lot of chances to score close to the hoop.

Can St. John's win a game where they're not forcing many turnovers? Besides the Drake game, the team has not locked down opponents' shooting, despite the images of the other team watching a St. John's player streaking for the easy two. The saving grace for the team has been that pressure defense - harassing and exciting, a physical and crowd-pleasing "94 feet of heat" as coined by the coaching staff.

But as one might notice with a number of pressure defenses, it's hard to generate those turnovers while also forcing a low effective field goal percentage from opponents. Offhand, the only team I can think of that plays that kind of full-court pressure defense while defending shots taken well might be Clemson last year and in 2008. Of course, opponents shot 47% on them inside the arc - not the worst, but not that great. The disruptions give the pressing team more opportunities to score, but there are some nights where that press keeps getting broken. What then?

There's not necessarily anything wrong with allowing a shooting percentage that's not normally associated with "great defense," especially when St. John's is forcing the opponent into tough shots, low percentage shots, and twos instead of threes.

But when St. John's isn't getting turnovers, these games could get out of hand. Could. And it's not just because of the defense. For stretches, St. John's looks like they don't have a constant secondary skill to fall back on - rebounding, interior scoring, jump shooting. That will be worked out. There is a team coming together in Queens.

Despite the shooting percentages given up, St. John's is doing a lot right. Yesterday's game was played at a pretty high pace, filled with possession changes, free throw shots, and an ability to speed up the other team. And importantly, DJ Kennedy and Justin Brownlee took their punishments and came out ready to play like the stars like they will need to be this year.

III. Keys to the Game

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

Close the Holes on the Outside of the Zone. Actually, St. John's did a decent job in forcing tough shots on the edges of the zone. In fact, they played stretches of man defense. Tyler Murray still got his shots off, and the Seahawks got some shots inside the arc, where they had been generally unsuccessful. Last night, they were decent, but still missed some point-blank shots. B

Maintain Aggressiveness. St. John's was aggressive early, fell into a lull in the middle, especially in defensive concentration - the team had given up 6 fouls in the second half by 16:05 on the clock; the Johnnies had fouled 10 times by 14:18 on the clock. Tight officiating? Or sloppy defense? Whatever it was, the Seahawks executed a second half plan and got to the bonus, where they can really shoot their free throws; being in the bonus cut down on the Red Storm's aggressiveness. C+

Crush Them On The Boards. Based on each teams' numbers, St. John's really could have or should have gotten more offensive rebounds. Some of that is shot selection (and the resultant long rebounds), but the Red Storm could have done better here. B-

Drive Time. At their best, St. John's did drive to the hole; the Red Storm took 36 free throws (compared to 61 shots, 59% free throw shooting rate). Nicely done. Points detracted for the two players who brought down the free throw shooting percentage. Paris Horne and Justin Burrell have to start hitting their free throws. They were a combine 3 of 12 (25%) from the line. B+

Spread the Scoring. Kennedy and Brownlee scored efficiently, and hot some free throws. Meanwhile, Dwight Hardy is still shooting through his slump. He did have a nice mid-range jumper, a few rebounds, and 4 steals. This blog appreciates him rounding out his game, but hope the shooting comes back. B+

IV. News

NY Daily News: D.J. Kennedy, Justin Brownlee combine for 37 points, St. John's beats Wagner for fifth straight win

His leading scorer, Justin Brownlee, wasn't keeping up his class attendance. His top all-around returning player, D.J. Kennedy, wasn't playing hard in practices and games. And although Lavin is new to both players, he needed to straighten them out. So even though the Red Storm came in with a four-game winning streak, Lavin pulled both from the starting lineup for Wednesday night's game against Wagner.

"I learned a lesson: on and off the court you have to handle your business," Brownlee said. "If you don't take care of your business, you get punished for it. In the future, I'll handle the business."

"I have to stay positive no matter what, that's what I took from this and it kept me more humble," said Kennedy, who bounced back from a two-point performance in the title game win at the Great Alaska Shootout. "I take games like that real personal. It was me. Last game my attitude and body language were horrible for the team and everybody. Coach made the right decision and it helped me. . . . I wasn't in it mentally."

NY Post: St. John's players respond to Lavin's law with win over Wagner

"In some cases, it was to send a message, put a little fire under the fanny, in terms of attitudes and approach, and another case, it was a minor but still important team policy in terms of class attendance," said Lavin, who sat D.J. Kennedy, Justin Brownlee and Dwayne Polee, but would not divulge which player had which transgression.

"If those things aren't happening consistently, we have to hold kids accountable, otherwise the talk is cheap. You are looking for how they're going to respond to it."

ESPN New York: Lavin shakes up lineup in Johnnies' win

Polee -- the highly-rated freshman who led the team in scoring in the very first game of the season against St. Mary's with 16 points -- hasn't been nearly as effective since the season opener, and has seen his playing time diminish. Lavin also mentioned that one of the lineup switches was "related to kind of a poor stretch of practices" -- that may have been Polee's primary offense.

Polee scored four points in only eight minutes of action against Wagner, and was not available after the game....

Lavin... indicated the starting lineup changes were likely just a one-game deal -- although don't be shocked if Polee continues to come off the bench.

SNY.tv: Johnnies Fend Off Wagner (with video highlights)

Staten Island Advance/ SI Live.com: Wagner gives St. John's a run for its money in tough loss, 69-61

The Seahawks were [spunky] Wednesday night in taking a bigger, stronger, clearly more athletic St. John’s to the last minute at the Red Storm’s Alumni Hall before finally bowing 69-61.

"We almost had a moment," [Dan] Hurley said after his team climbed out of 16-point early second-half hole to edge within 62-58 of the Red Storm with less than four minutes remaining. "We aren’t into moral victories, but we fought hard tonight, and I’m beginning to think that might be our best quality."

NY Hoops.com: Benched Starters Propel St. John’s to 5th Straight Win

Kennedy finished with a game high 20 points while Brownlee added 17 but thanks in large part to poor shooting both at the line (14 misses) and from beyond the three point arc (3-17) St. John’s allowed Wagner to slowly climb their way back into the game. They used a deliberate tempo on offense and good work on the glass to help generate enough offense to stay close.

Next up: St. Bonaventure comes to Queens on Tuesday, December 7th, for a rematch of last year's close loss to the Red Storm.

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