Remember the Dirty Secret about U Conn from the pregame post?
...they aren't quite what they were when they beat up the competition in the Maui Invitational.... Big East play hasn't been that kind to them. The Huskies' efficiency margin is a skinny 3.6 points per 100 possessions, good for 8th in the conference. But for a tenth ranked team, a 6-4 record? Struggles on offense? Are the kids hitting a wall?
Like Jamal Jeffries says in that seminal "classic" Juwanna Mann - the secret's out.
The Connecticut Huskies were beaten, beasted, basted, knocked around behind a team defensive effort on Kemba Walker (15 points on 16 shots, 7 assists) who looked human once again, even sloppy. The Huskies' offense wasn't the real culprit in this loss, though they shot 35% inside the arc. It was the defense that led the Huskies into the wilderness.
The Red Storm rebounded and ran on them over and over again, picking up at least 24 fast-break points behind the tenacious outlet passing of D.J. Kennedy (20 points, 11 total rebounds, 5 assists), along with the steady driving and shooting of Dwight Hardy (career-high 33 points, 3 assists). In a 71 possession game, the Storm dropped 89 points, putting up 54 in the second half.
Or in the words of Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun:
"They just outplayed and outworked us for 40 minutes. Tonight was a very disappointing night for us. Every aspect that you can possibly name bothered me."
Such sweet words to hear from Jim Calhoun. Oh, say them again; it's like hearing a pleasant story a second time. Tonight's game echoed the thrashing the Huskies received last March from St. John's in the Big East Tournament, except the Huskies hadn't given up; St. John's was just aggressively pounding the possibility of victory from their hides. It's a new, more competitive decade.
More on the dominating performance and the unsung heroes of St. John's, after the jump.
The Huskies fall to 18-5 overall, and 6-5 in the Big East - into a tie with the Red Storm (14-9 overall, 6-5 Big East). And the Johnnies are a good road win away from being in the driver's seat for an NCAA Tournament bid. The fans were loud in the Garden as St. John's went on their 13-3 run to start the second half - a run kicked off by a technical foul on Calhoun, given when he argued the validity of Malik Boothe's miracle trey to end the first half.
And the U Conn fans went home unhappy. A satisfying win.
It's been my opinion that the St. John's Red Storm were built with a superstar scorer in mind. There are guys who can play complementary roles, guys who can rebound, but the team was missing a real go-to alpha dog in previous years.
Now, with Dwight Hardy gets the majority of shots (and maybe even a back page) with his scoring versatility. With crisp drives, athletic finishes, and jump shooting, he was a constant threat, always on balance and scoring like he was back up in the Rucker. He's the alpha dog.
But from the beginning of the game, D.J. Kennedy paced the team. He was active on defense, getting his arm in the way of passes early, keeping Kemba from getting a head of steam to drive into the lane. And Kennedy was the D.J. of old, sticking his nose in to snag rebounds - the do-everything "Big Play" baller.
Unlike the Kennedy of old, he didn't dribble the ball up court - he made impressive outlet passes. The passing was ragged early... but for the team's second basket, Kennedy took a defensive rebound, tossed it up court just out of the reach of Paris Horne, but with an arc; Horne caught up, gathered the ball and laid it off the glass. The Johnnies were there to play their game, to take advantage of the young Huskies' miscues (in a few cases, an inability to get back on defense).
Just a beautiful floor game.
Kennedy had help; Paris Horne was there to be the heart of the defense and knock down some open jump shots.
Malik Boothe was excellent, with a pair of steals against a Connecticut team that only turned the ball over 8 times tonight, along with 9 points.
Sean Evans was the first big off the bench, and despite a few lapses, played very big with 7 points and 8 rebounds; Connecticut's Alex Oriakhi was held to 7 rebounds, 6 offensive, and some of that is because of Evans' and Kennedy's work at boxing out.
This wasn't just a great game for D.J. Kennedy. It was a great result for all the guys who have toiled for years for St. John's, who have done their best despite weaknesses in their games. A great moment for those players who worked so hard to become a unit that's better than the sum of its parts. These are roles that Evans and Kennedy and Boothe excelled in tonight... and hopefully, for the rest of a season that looks like it could end in the national spotlight.
Keys to the Game
Slow Kemba. Kemba Walker went 4-16, 0-9 inside the arc. He was certainly slowed, and forced to take jump shots. He hit 4 of 7 from outside to keep his numbers respectable. But tonight, Kemba looked like just another guard. A
Low Turnover Numbers. The Johnnies handled the Husky pressure well by attacking - backdoor cuts and aggressive passing over their pressure. The Red Storm had 8 turnovers, for a 11.4% turnover rate. A+
Score Inside. Justin Brownlee wasn't a huge factor, and his offensive disappearance will be a problem in the slower games the team has coming up. Brownlee did have 7 rebounds. D.J. Kennedy was a man inside, however, as was Sean Evans. B+
High Energy Garden. The Garden was popping! Rumbling! Electric! And the Red Storm's energy matched the crowd. Great job. A+
Big Game Hardy. Dwight Hardy had a great game with 33 points in a game where all eyes were on him. He rose to the occasion like a Bronx champ, and at times, it seemed like he just couldn't miss a shot. A