Game 9: St. John's 62, Davidson 57

The mixed-martial arts match with dribbling and rebounds... not necessarily scoring

I. Recap | II. Avoiding the Three-Pointer? | III. Keys of the Game Recap | IV. News coverage

Boxscore

I. Recap

That was a very physical bit of basketball. Fortunately for St. John's, they're used to that kind of game from Big East play. But the image of Davidson's Jake Cohen's face coming up from the floor, all covered in blood... well, that wasn't cool. It was a physical, bloody, ugly game, and that kind of physicality favored the Johnnies over the cast of One Tree Hill the Wildcats.

On a night when Dwight Hardy was bottled up (3-10 shooting) and Brownlee wasn't as effective, DJ Kennedy provided the fire with 17 points, 4 offensive rebounds, and decent defense. He said in the postgame interview that he "took it personally" and wanted to step up after the Fordham loss.

Dele Coker got the start, and had some nice sequences to start the second half, though he only played 9 minutes. Sean Evans got some run in the first half and played 4 minutes. Dwayne Polee showed promise once again, scoring 6 points and grabbing 3 rebounds, until he took another deep 2-pointer that he missed. That brought him back to the bench.

Lavin had the team play back at times instead of pressing all game, and that was greatly appreciated by the fans.

The Red Storm shot 8 more free throws than Davidson and hit them at a 73% clip, which is good for them. But the Johnnies gave up the ball, getting caught in bad spots in the Davidson defense numerous times to 15 turnovers, much higher than their season average. Davidson wasn't taking the ball out of their hands, just cutting off lanes the Red Storm thought they would have.

Speaking of shooting... St. John's took 6 shots from outside? Read more below>>

II.Avoiding the Three-Pointer?

A big factor in the game - and why it was so close despite St. John's forays to the free throw line and better overall shooting - was the Davidson three-point shooting. Despite missing a number of shots and the defense looking better than it had recently, Davidson still shot a crisp 39% from outside, just at the average percentage St. John's is giving up.

The Johnnies weren't great at defending the three last year, but this year they are atrocious, in the bottom 50 of all 345 Division I college basketball teams. The Wildcats had 13 assists on 16 made shots - that's 81% of their shots assisted. That may mean the Johnnies are just not giving up shots off the dribble... but it also means that Davidson, like other teams this year, sliced into them like a ripe pear.

Meanwhile, the Johnnies had one player - Dwight Hardy - shooting from the outside. And he missed 5 of his 6 attempts, surprisingly. He got some good looks. But the rest of the team made a point to drive the basketball into the defense. Was there a specific directive to avoid the three-pointer?

By design?

By choice?

It's not a terrible plan for a team that isn't great at shooting and isn't grabbing long offensive rebounds. But that plan falls apart when the team isn't scoring well inside the arc. The other (weaker) team had 23 chances to draw closer in a hurry (they hit 9, and barely missed on a few others), and the St. John's defense is still not stopping that shooting. Shouldn't St. John's try to keep pace?

On the other hand, the Red Storm players' strength has never been shooting, it's the grit and grime they play with. That style won't work against a team like Northwestern, that could probably shoot 50+ percent from outside with the way the Johnnies leave guys unguarded off of screens.

But that same style that seems like a good way to get behind also got Jake Cohen and fellow starting forwards Clint Mann into foul trouble. Is that the intention, to make games physical, choppy, and aggressive? It just might be.

III. Keys to the Game

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

Keep The Ball Away From Cohen. Cohen only got 5 shots, though he had 8 free throw attempts and 8 rebounds, scoring 14 in the game between getting fouled hard. Okay job here. B

Harass the Ballhandlers. JP Kuhlman had 7 turnovers. Brendan McKillop stopped pressing the offense and just took shots off of screens, where he got good looks. This key is a mixed bag. B-

Slash the Interiors. The Red Storm really attacked their interior. Nice work. A

Keep the Energy Up. St. John’s came back in the second half with smarts, energy, and desire. They never gave up. A-

Rebound Better. The Johnnies' DJ Kennedy and Justin Burrell really got to a lot of rebounds. Burrell is getting better at grabbing the boards; Kennedy did a great job getting offensive rebounds today and seemed to fit in better into the rotation. They could use some help from their teammates, however. B+

IV. News

Red Storm Sports Recap

NY Post: Storm stand tall

St. John's edged Davidson -- coached by Queens native Bob McKillop -- 62-57 in a physical and, at times, chippy game. Lavin got a tech early, Dele Coker and Davidson's Jake Cohen were hit with offsetting technicals in the second half, and Cohen was left with a gash over his left eye, courtesy of intentional foul by Justin Brownlee, who drew an intentional foul in the first half.

"I just talked to the team about the fact that over the course of a season there's going to be nights where you play a game that isn't a thing of beauty for the spectators," said Lavin, "But you've got to find a way grind out or manufacture a win."

NY Daily News: St. John's scores 62-57 Holiday Festival semis win over Davidson at Garden, will face Northwestern

Johnny Jungle: A Hardy Day's Night

"It took us a while to get over the Fordham loss," stated Kennedy. "I took it personally to step up and get a win." Joining Kennedy in the effort were Justin Brownlee, who added another double-figure game to his ledger (11 points) and Paris Horne, who made up for a six-point outing with an emphatic blocked shot to end the first half, one where Davidson led 27-24.

NY Newsday: D.J. Kennedy: "We refused to lose"

Lavin said the coaching staff was forced by the Fordham loss to examine what St. John's was doing defensively and make adjustments. In the second half, he switched from zone to man, and he played Burrell down the stretch to make it tough for Davidson to go inside to Jake Cohen (14 points) and Clint Mann (12 points), who totaled only four of those points after intermission.

"We felt we had to really crawl in defensively in terms of our ball pressure," Lavin said. "That was ultimately the difference in the game. At the end of the possession, we put the period at the end of the sentence with the rebound. All the hard work often goes out the window if you don't clean it up with the boards, and that's where I thought Justin Burrell's presence on the defensive boards was a difference and D.J. Kennedy on the offensive boards. The board play at both ends really separated us at the end."

ESPN: Rapid Reaction: St. John's 62, Davidson 57

St. John's forced 14 Davidson turnovers in the first half, yet only scored six points off those 14 giveaways. The Red Storm have to take better advantage of those opportunities -- especially when they're struggling to get good looks in their half-court offense, as they did for much of the game Monday night, particularly in the first half.

That said, St. John's played a very strong defensive game overall, limiting Davidson to 34 percent shooting from the field (16-for-47) and forcing 21 total turnovers.

Charlotte Observer: St. John's struggles to hold off Davidson

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