The impressive conference opening win on the road.
I. Recap | II. Control | III. Keys of the Game Recap | IV. News coverage
There is a style building for St. John's - maybe it won't be the style of play St. John's will employ next year, or even for the rest of this year.
But Coach Steve Lavin's plan, for a night at least, is coming together. Turning over 10 straight defeats - and over 10 years since a win in Morgantown - is significant. And it was satisfying to see, like toppling the bully for the very first time. St. John's was in control of the game from nearly the opening tip, and played in a way I wouldn't have predicted - deliberate, in control, with some turnovers but with great offensive efficiency. For more, read below>>
The Mountaineers were on their heels the whole game, frustrated by all the fouls that they committed. Huggins dug into the bench for Jonnie West, Danny Jennings, and Kevin Noreen to try and stem the tide and give impact players like John Flowers a few minutes to collect themselves. Casey Mitchell and West got shots against that St. John's zone. In the paint, however, West Virginia shot poorly. The offense didn't get to places where they could get easy shots.
On defense, the Red Storm's passing sliced them up. 60% of the Red Storm's baskets were assisted, with DJ Kennedy leading the team with 6 dimes. Kennedy also contributed 17 points on 3 of 3 shooting, 11 of 12 from the free throw line, 11 rebounds (all defensive), a steal, and 3 turnovers. Justin Burrell and Justin Brownlee had quick hands for the Mountaineers' forwards, forcing 5 turnovers between them. Dele Coker started and played some enforcer minutes. Malik Boothe only logged 14 minutes, partly due to a hamstring issue (he came back in the second half - looking a little slower but still defending and handling well). And the team drew a truckload of fouls.
Usually fouling the Red Storm isn't a bad idea. But last night, they stepped up at the free throw line.
The Red Storm took 35 free throws. The team had 41 field goal attempts.
That's a Free Throw Rate upwards of 95%.
Yet the story of the game is less about the free throws than it is about how St. John's got those free throws. The Mountaineer defense was a little off-balance for much of the game, especially after offensive possessions. The Red Storm took the rebounds (kudos on grabbing that many defensive rebounds, Johnnies) and dribbled through the Mountaineer defense.
If Coach Huggins should be upset by anything... it has to be the inability to control the St. John's offense at all. The Johnnies' ballhandlers - including Justin Brownlee - didn't have to change direction, often going deep into the paint before having to decide whether to pull up the dribble, shoot, or pass. Part of that is effective attacking, but part is the Mountaineers - especially the forwards - being beat to positions. I don't know if all of the fouls called were fouls; I think Joe Mazzulla and Flowers got jobbed on a call apiece. But St. John's motion was aggressive and effective.
The team found ways of slipping by defenders and getting to spots in the paint where the could score. DJ Kennedy got deep position numerous times without the ball. The team took great care to move the ball around and to keep the West Virginia defense from being able to plant in the places where the offense would go.
Topping that, they hit their free throws. Justin Burrell's 5 of 8 performance from the line supplemented his smart play, his strength in the paint, and his solid hands last night. Kennedy drew fouls like a slasher should. Dwight Hardy skipped the 3-point tries for attacks inside, as did Paris Horne.
The team's athleticism was fully on display on both ends. Dwayne Polee II, whose shot was falling, had a highlight defense-to-offense moment. He came over to help on a shooter, blocked the shot and it bounced towards the St. John's basket. In three dribbles, he launched and got himself on SportsCenter.
III. Keys to the Game
Pregame notes, with original keys to the game and team pluses
Keep them From Second Shots. Though the Mountaineers got to 35% of their misses, that's solidly below their regular rate of 41.5% of misses. A-
Maintain Turnover Ratio. St. John's turned the ball over on 23% of their possessions, while only forcing turnovers on 15% of the Mountaineers' possessions. Not great, and the change in turnovers is something to keep an eye on for the Red Storm. St. John's did steal the ball on 12.5% of the 'Eers possessions, and were stolen from on 9.2% of possessions. Which is to say, St. John's had a number of unforced turnovers - walks and other footwork issues. This needs to be worked on. C
Attack and Draw Fouls. Boy, did the Red Storm outfight the Mountaineers and draw fouls. Impressive. A+
Cover Casey Mitchell. Casey Mitchell, a former Chipola Junior College teammate of Justin Brownlee, had a hot start, but he was covered late, and ended up with a 4-10 night from the perimeter. Not bad. The Mountaineers were held to 36% shooting, and took 16 more three-pointers than they normally do to get there. B+
Find a Way to Run/ Impose Pace. The Red Storm didn't run, but they controlled the pace, drawing out possessions and making the West Virginia squad play from behind. As mentioned before, the Johnnies forced the Mountaineers to look for scoring from beyond the arc; they couldn't play the game they wanted to play. A
NY Newsday: Big second half lifts St. John's
Lavin acknowledged how efficient his team was in the second half on Wednesday night.
"This was the third consecutive game we were highly efficient offensively in the second half, against Davidson, Northwestern and West Virginia. And it's a testament to the kids, really sharing the ball and their willingness to make that extra pass," said Lavin. "We talk about the one-more pass. I thought tonight in some key possessions and sequences they were willing to make that one extra pass that leads to a high percentage look. When you do that for a long period as we the numbers reflect that with the 76 percent."
"We felt from the tip to the last second that we were in total control," said Justin Burrell, who had 13 points and five rebounds. "We ran everything we wanted to. We knew plays they were going to run. We made them do things they didn't want to do. We controlled the paint . . . and we really controlled the tone."
NY Post: Red Storm stun Mountaineers
"They, without question, got the most easy baskets," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. "They beat us in transition and when they didn't have it, they beat us on offense."
Three times, the Mountaineers made runs, twice taking the lead, yet never did the Red Storm, which blew a 21-point lead at Fordham less than three weeks ago, seem flustered.
Dwight Hardy scored 20 points and Justin Brownlee and D.J. Kennedy added 17 apiece as the Johnnies notched their first win over West Virginia since 2002 and their first victory at the West Virginia University Coliseum since 1999.
"I’m so pleased for our seniors because they haven’t had as much success here as they would’ve liked to," Lavin told SNY....
Former St. John’s coach and current SNY analyst Norm Roberts, who was never able to beat West Virginia, praised Lavin for the victory.
"It’s a huge win for Lavin, a huge win for the program," Roberts said on air.
MSN Sports Net (official site): WVU Drops League Opener
Charleston Daily Mail: WVU basketball: St. John's controls paint, glass in road win
St. John's only tried six 3-pointers - making one - because the Red Storm didn't need a long game with its man and ball movement, combined with athleticism and seven seniors among the eight players Lavin used.
WVU struggled to defend the Red Storm and got into quick foul issues. With 14:53 left in the game, four key Mountaineers already had four personals apiece.
The Smoking Musket link recap
WV Illustrated: WVU Men's Basketball Game Recap: St. John's 81 WVU 71
With just under five minutes to go, though, St. John’s extended the lead to 14, and appeared to have the game in hand. Another rally by the Mountaineers kept things interesting, but their efforts ultimately came up short, resulting in the loss.
"When we were down 10 or 12, we showed a lot of intensity trying to get back into the game," said Kevin Jones, "but we need to do that on a consistent basis and until we learn to do that, we’re not going to be the team we want to be."
For the game, St. John’s shot 61% from the field and 76% in the second half. West Virginia, on the other hand, shot just 37% for the game....
"I don’t remember us shooting an easy shot," said Jones. "Everything was contested; everything was hard. They got a lot of easy points inside, and that’s what it comes down to. We can get those easy points and they got a lot of extra possessions."
WV Illustraed: VIDEO: Huggins and Players React to St. John's Loss (video)