When St. John's plays St. Francis (NY) Tuesday, Achiuwa will be battling smaller competitors. But it won't stay that way all season. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Thursday and Friday certainly weren't a gift from a higher being.
Despite noble collective efforts, St. John's dropped consecutive contests to Arizona and to Texas A&M. Steve Lavin's young group showed varying signs of brilliance, but ultimately couldn't climb that final step. Despite the pair of losses, some of the Johnnies had to walk out of Madison Square Garden content with encouraging performances.
God'sgift Achiuwa probably wasn't one of them.
The Red Storm's most prominent interior presence, who averaged 17.6 points and 8.3 rebounds in the team's first three games, gave uncharacteristically poor showings in the 2K Sports Classic final rounds. An average of 3.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in the most recent two have you thinking that something wasn't just right.
Achiuwa, his coach, and his teammates assure the Queens faithful that the big man will make things right Tuesday when the Johnnies face St. Francis (NY). More after the jump.
God'sgift is described by his coaches and teammates as a leader, but one that leads in a quiet way. A junior in terms of academics and eligibility, Achiuwa is one of the more experienced of the group. Achiuwa is a fan favorite, a key ingredient to the Red Storm's success, and a focal point or pivot for the Red Storm.
As the Red Storm's lone true big man, the reality is that he'll need to be better than he played last week. And he knows that.
Last week's struggles began with a minor case of tardiness. Achiuwa, a sure-starter, was taken out of the starting lineup on Thursday against Arizona after reportedly arriving at the team bus a minute late. Obviously, things like that happen.
But from the moment he entered the game at the Garden in his alternate black uniform, Achiuwa didn't seem to be the same player we had seen in Queens this season. He was dropping passes, missing close looks, getting out-rebounded.
Was it a lack of aggression? Just a bad few days?
Per Coach Lavin, it wasn't an effort issue.
"There's a combination of factors that led to Gift being less productive in these last two games," Lavin said Monday. "First, we played two teams that have great depth on their front line and, second, we need to do a better job making a concerted effort getting the big fella more touches."
"Yeah [his performance bothered him], but I know he'll bounce back," freshman guard Phil Greene mentioned. "He'd been playing well previously. I know a breakthrough is going to happen."
As Lavin alluded to, it will be Achiuwa's teammates that will dictate his opportunities, whether they "feed the grizzly bear," in Lavin's words. Gift may not have had his A-game on Thursday and Friday, but the coaching staff believes that some extra focus could rectify any existing issues.
"Coach Dunlap has been on us to feed the post," Greene remarked. "He played well in the Texas A&M game because he played defense and rebounded. His offensive game will come back. His shots are going to fall."
When Achiuwa did get touches, it seemed like it was always outside the paint where he'd be forced to attack the defender with a dribble. Despite the height disadvantage that the 6'9" forward will face in the Big East, he'll need to learn how to obtain better positioning in the post to create easier, quicker, high-percentage opportunities.
Gift will get his chance to right the ship on Tuesday when the Johnnies host the Terriers of St. Francis (NY). As a smaller, scrappy team, St. Francis will be a squad that Achiuwa can overpower on the blocks. It'll be up to his teammates to get him (excuse me, the "grizzly bear") the ball as many times as possible.
As for a bit of housekeeping preview information, expect the Terriers to possibly be a difficult match-up for St. John's. Coached by former Red Storm assistant (under Norm Roberts) Glenn Braica, St. Francis isn't afraid to shoot the three-ball. Guards Stefan Perunicic and Ben Mockford will look to unload from deep, often. That game plan almost single-handedly beat Seton Hall in Newark.
Lavin will most likely turn to the man-to-man defensive set to equalize the Terriers' perimeter threat, much like he did against Texas A&M.
Characterized by some as a "trap game" following the two high-profile games last week, Tuesday's battle with the boys from Brooklyn is set to be a dog fight.
What better way to win a dog fight than with your biggest dog? Or grizzly bear.