"Escape" is the right word to describe the David Blaine/ Houdini act the St. John's Red Storm did in pulling out the 59-57 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats at Fifth Third Arena. The game was a heart stopper for Red Storm fans (the game thread is a twitchy-fingered convulsion), including the Bearcats' buzzer-beating attempt from halfcourt that went just wide right.
Sometimes road wins are rough wins. No matter how ugly, they still count.
The Red Storm went five and a half minutes in the second half without a point, while giving up a trio of three-pointers to Rashad Bishop and Larry Davis. The Red Storm lost their composure, looking for deep 2-pointers and throwing the ball away on possessions against the Bearcats' bench players.
But clutch late free-throw shooting (helped by a Rashad Bishop lane violation on a Malik Boothe free throw), a late composure boost, and timely defense wrested the lead away from the home team.
These close games with the Cincinnati Bearcats are becoming a yearly habit. And it's an ugly, low-possession, turnover-filled, hair-pulling, heart-in-throat, breath-stopping habit. In the end, the Red Storm scratched out a crucial win against a squad they'll be compared against when the selection committee looks at at-large resumes. The Johnnies stole a road win that leave them in a very good position to dance in March.
The Red Storm improve to (15-9, 7-5 Big East), and travel to Marquette to play the Golden Eagles on Tuesday. The Bearcats fall to (19-6, 6-6), and have a rough upcoming schedule.
This game was no thing of beauty, especially in the second half. A closer look at the ebbs and flows of the game, the top players, the Keys of the Game, and more - after the jump.
While the Johnnies had an uncharacteristic number of turnovers (15 on the game - 25% of their possessions) which kept Cincy close the whole game, the defense was solid. The Bearcats shot 36.7% from distance - not great, but not a real killer - and 34.8% inside the arc. They were defended well.
St. John's shot an effective FG percentage (weighted for 3-pointers) of 68.8% in the first half, getting good open looks for Dwight Hardy (18 points, total) and Justin Brownlee (16 points, 7 rebounds). Brownlee, in particular, used his versatility to get shots off against slower defenders, in the paint, and on the move. Sean Evans had excellent contributions with 8 points, 3 rebounds, and very good defense in 21 minutes.
Dwight Hardy's slow start compelled the coaching staff to sub in Malik Boothe (6 points, 4 assists); he steadied the Red Storm and gave them a burst of energy, especially after a 10-0 Bearcats run. The Red Storm found seams to score in, places to shoot, and forced a number of mistakes from the Bearcats, and held on for the victory in a wild, nearly choked-away second half.
So why was it so close in the end? Second chances.
Cincinnati grabbed 15 of 35 offensive rebounds against St. John's, giving them chances to score inside or kick the ball out for the three-pointers repeatedly. A team's ability to rebound the defensive end is important to minimize the chances the opponent has to score, and the Johnnies struggled to clear misses against the taller Bearcats.
The Bearcats defensive quickness and length proved troublesome, once again. Led by Ibrahima Thomas (7 points, 2 blocks, 8 total rebounds), the bigger Bearcats spent the whole game
manhandling grabbing offensive rebounds (42% of the offensive rebounds available, which is really good). Rashad Bishop chipping in a clutch 10 points, mostly in the second half and excellent defense. White Plains' Sean Kilpatrick paced the Bearcats with 15 points - mostly on his 4 three-pointers.
And where was Bearcats star Yancy Gates? On the bench, pouting. Cincy almost pulled out the win despite his lazy 13-minute performance; he was benched for much of the 2nd half for a lack of effort. I suppose that's what happens when your own teammate beats you for a rebound in your area.
When Thomas fouled out in the waning minutes, some interchange between Yancy and the coaching staff - possibly his lack of enthusiasm for getting into a close game that the Bearcats sorely need to remain in the hunt for an NCAA berth - ended with Yancy returning to the bench, a confused scorekeeper, confused announcers, and the memory of a post player who can't be counted on.
Keys to the Game recap
Play defense just as well. The defense was comparable to the previous game against the Bearcats, and with fewer turnovers. It was enough to win, and nice to see the team with a rigid defensive stand to finish the game, forcing the Bearcats to use all but 3.5 seconds left in the game to take a contested jump shot that missed. B
Defend the paint better. The Bearcats shot 34.8% inside the arc, and were forced to go outside for their points. Those shots almost killed the Red Storm, but they did defend the paint better than in the first matchup. B+
Keep the Bearcats off of the glass. This time it wasn't Gates; Ibrahima Thomas and Justin Jackson helped the Bearcats dominate the glass. This was a real problem in this afternoon's game. D-
Play a crisp(er) offensive game. Despite the late-game lull, the team was crisp in stretches, better than they were in the first matchup against Cincinnati at Carnesecca Arena. B+
Get to the free throw line. St. John's did not draw many fouls. I'm not surte that was for a lack of trying... which affects my grade. C