Game 7: St. Bonaventure 67, St. John's 66

The game where Bonaventure's iron man rotation made enough late plays to win.

photos courtesy of Red Storm Sports

I. Recap | II. Size Matters | III. Keys of the Game Recap | IV. News coverage

Boxscore

I. Recap

Well, that was disappointing.

I don't say that to be sarcastic. The loss to the St. Bonaventure Bonnies was tough, but it's not the end of the world. The game does reveal some troubling issues with the St. John's squad, but also gives a number of players goals to work toward.

Dwight Hardy vs Bonaventure" src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5042/5244651908_5bfbae4549_o.jpg" style="margin: 3px;" width="251" height="382" />And maybe this is a goal. I got the sense in the book "The Men of March" - which followed Steve Lavin in another of his tumultuous years at UCLA - that Lavin spends the early part of the season tweaking and experimenting with lineups, giving younger and less-heralded players a chance to ball. I hope to touch on that more tomorrow; but that attempt to develop players' skills in real time might be why Sean Evans spent so much time on the court after his 4th foul. And why Dele Coker got some run.

Watching the game felt uncomfortable. The Red Storm were handling the Bonnies just fine for the first five minutes. And then the team got a collective flat, not scoring for almost 5 minutes of clock time, including 4 missed shots at the rim, some hectic fast offense, and turnover-filled play from the team - Dwayne Polee losing the ball in the corner, DJ Kennedy losing the ball, Hardy getting stripped.

After that, the Bonnies held close, finding outside jumpers from Ogo Adegboye and Michael Davenport early, Andrew Nicholson in the second half, and the Bonnies free throw shooting finished the job.And they won despite fielding some of the worst ballhandlers Division I may have to offer. Who tells big men to hold the ball in front of their heads like that to get the rock snatched? What kind of coaching is that? Telegraphed passes, questionable dribbling... a lot of bad habits on the Bonnies. But they won, so they had to do something right.

The Johnnies loss can be blamed on free throws - St. Bonaventure shot 18-22 (81%), and St. John's shot 10-20 (50%) on the evening. That will be the difference in a close game.

But St. John's had all of those turnovers! 9 more shot attempts! And the game should not have been that close - any predictive site would have listed a scheduled blowout of the visiting team from Olean. Justin Brownlee scored well, Dwight Hardy came out of his slump.

What happened? Why was the game close to begin with? Read more below>>

 

II. Size Matters

Free throws matter. Defense against the other teams' star matters. But while I was wracking my head to figure out statistically what went really wrong, which team over- or under-performed to make the game that tight for the last 30 minutes, I kept coming back to size-related issues - the missed easy shots, Brownlee taking fewer shots than Hardy, the ineffectiveness of the big men, the lack of offensive rebounding...

Malik Boothe vs. Bonaventure" src="http://farm6.static.flickr.com/5169/5244651924_b05586be22_o.jpg" style="margin: 3px;" width="236" height="382" />I started to think about Lavin's favored lineup when the game gets a little tight - a small team with a combination of Boothe/ Stith/ Horne/ Hardy/ Kennedy and a big man. Meanwhile, Bonaventure's lineup features some decent height - two 6'9" forwards, a 6'6" small forward, a 6'4" guard, a 6' guard. Not the most imposing, but it's tall. And it's generally harder to shoot over tall players.

Those Bonnies got the job done against St. John's last night, blocking 4 shots (to the Red Storm's 1) and rebounding 75% of St. John's misses. With a lack of size, St. John's has to find ways rebounding, especially when they're missing shots.

The Johnnies allowed the Brown Bon-Bons to snag 35.5% of their own offensive misses. Worrisome, since that's better than their season average playing against the Cleveland States of the NCAA. What is St. John's going to do about Pittsburgh's offensive rebounding? Or West Virginia? How are the Red Storm going to neutralize height?

Scoring-wise, the Johnnies haven't killed it inside the arc (48.8% 2pt FG%), but were held to 42% shooting inside the arc. More importantly, the staff started Sean Evans and Dwayne Polee, who combined for 18 minutes, 0-5 from the field (1 pt), 1 rebound (by Evans), 2 steals (Evans) and 6 fouls (5 by Evans). The driving guards Paris Horne and Malik Stith went 3 for 9 inside the arc; with as many steals as the team had, one expects to see the finishers with efficient numbers inside the paint.

Yes, it's only one game. But this small lineup has to be able to convert against bigger players and bigger teams for conference play. Turnovers are great, but if those easy shots don't fall, and the pressing style leads the other team to shoot a solid percentage from the field, forcing turnovers won't be enough to win.

III. Keys to the Game

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

Force Them Into Turnovers. Well done by the Johnnies. Bonaventure is a terrible ballhandling team, and St. John's took advantage, forcing turnovers on 28% of their possessions. The Bonnies' season average is 24%. A-

Obstruct Nicholson. St. John's got in Davenport's way early in the game... but lost their pressure on him. He came back on the court with 4 fouls and played the last 5 minutes without picking up one. he had 19 points, 13 rebounds, and looked like a mobile beast in the second half. C

Score Efficiently. Missed free throws and missed shots near the rim killed a game that was closer than it should have been. Scoring less than a point per possession - after scoring 1.1 do far this season - is disappointing, though the Bonnies have been good defenders all year. Still, seeing the forwards stymied and putting up wild shots and the occasional lack of offensive flow was troubling. D+

Build On Success. Some of the turnovers were of the lackadaisical variety. But the Johnnies held onto the ball fairly well. B+

Defensive Awareness. From yesterday:

St. John’s needs to cover the Bonnies’ very good three-point shooters, even the bad ones; those guys are likely taking shots they think they can make. And St. John’s doesn’t want to be surprised by a sudden fit of straight-shooting by St. Bonaventure.

That was a "sudden fit of straight-shooting". Not terrible defense, but needed more work in the recovery to shooters. C+

IV. News

Because everyone's been ready with something to say for Lavin's first bad loss. Again, I will try to address this tomorrow, work permitting.

Red Storm Sports Recap

NY Daily News: Andrew Nicholson's jumper stuns Steve Lavin and St. John's as St. Bonaventure steals 67-66 win

It's hard to see this as anything but a bad loss for St. John's (5-2), which had its five-game winning streak snapped. St. Bonaventure (5-2) was picked 13th of 14 teams in the Atlantic 10's preseason coaches poll and was a double-digit underdog. St. John's held an early lead of 13-2 and was up 47-37 with less than 13 minutes to play, but still ended up in a nail-biter.

The Red Storm hurt itself by shooting only 42% from the floor and a dismal 10-for-20 on the free-throw line.

"The things we struggled with are all correctable," Lavin said. "I told them that they are still the same group that came back from down 12 (against) Arizona State (in the Great Alaska Shootout final) and pulled out other big wins."

NY Post: St. John's loses to St. Bonaventure

In the first half, Nicholson was about as influential as Luxembourg. Faced with relentless, swarming double-teams, he had two points on 0-for-5 shooting, but the Ontario-native exploded in the second half, finishing with 19 points and 13 rebounds, scoring seven straight points, to spark a 10-0 run in the middle of the second half, tying the game at 47.

Nevertheless, Nicholson's heroics almost didn't happen. With a little more than three minutes left, the 6-foot-9 Nicholson, already with four fouls, spun in the paint, bowling over the 6-foot-2 Hardy, with the latter drawing a blocking foul on a questionable call.

ESPN NY: St. John's struggling to toe (foul) line

And then the third area was free throw shooting. St. John's made a measly 65.2 percent of its foul shots last season, which placed them at No. 278 in the country. Coming into Tuesday night's game, that number was virtually identical -- 65.1 percent.

And a 10-for-20 night won't help it any.

Lavin said his team has been working hard at foul shooting using a number of different approaches -- from having a "100 Club" in which players come in and shoot 100 free throws three times a week, to setting up pressure situations in practice, where a particular player is sent to the foul line and must make free throws in order for the entire team to avoid running sprints.

Slam Online: St. John’s Hits Bump In The Road

Johnny Jungle: This St. Nick Not So Jolly

Buffalo News: Bonnies end Red Storm's reign

The last time St. Bonaventure defeated St. John's in men's basketball, old heroes Tom and Sam Stith and Whitey Martin were playing and Eddie Donovan was the coach.

That was in March 1960. Now the Bonnies have a new hero.

Andrew Nicholson hit his second game-winning shot in a row Tuesday night with 5.2 seconds left for a 67-66 victory over St. John's before 4,408 fans in Carnesecca Arena.

It's been more than 50 years -- but only four games -- since the last time St. Bonaventure defeated St. John's.

Nicholson's jumper from the corner capped the victory for a Bona team that had trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half (13-2) and by 10 (47-37) in the second with 13:02 left.

NY Hoops: Nicholson’s Jumper Lift’s St. Bonaventure to Upset of St. John’s

Next up: St. John's travels up the Whitestone or Throgs Neck Bridge to play the Fordham Rams in lovely Rose Hill Gym, a game I will be attending.

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