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Game #11: St. John's 48, Virginia Tech Hokies 54


Things I could have done waiting for St. John's to score a field goal in the second half of yesterday's loss to Virginia Tech (I believe it was a 10 minute drought, maybe more). I could have:

- watched paint dry
- cooled dough for ginger cookies
- played a half of soccer
- read a short Thomas Pynchon novel

Or as my visiting non-American friend said, "I could play for St. John's. I'm tall, and I can airball and turn the ball over too."

The loss was dispiriting; it was an ugly, ugly game, the kind that sets St. John's basketball back at least 60 of the 100 years of the college's basketball tradition. It looked like a tough game, with bodies banging, shots getting blocked, hand-to-hand combat.

But thinking of who the teams are - the Big East's bottom feeder vs. the ACC's bottom feeder, two teams with 6-8 freshmen apiece, two teams who couldn't shoot with a camera-- it wasn't a tough game, it was an inept game. It was a dog of a game. You gotta crack 50, guys.

st johns vs virginia tech 12 29 2007 box score.jpg

Virginia Tech won on the strength of free throws and AD Vassallo's play, mainly. For them, they expect to play an extremely physical game, and that is not St. John's style. What that style is, I am not sure; the coaching staff seems to want to react to the other team's play rather than impose their own will or find ways of getting their talent the ball in areas where they can really make plays. You know, like good teams often do.

St. John's second halves have all been underwhelming (more on that later this week), and this one, no different.Seeing St. John's only up one (22-21) at the half indicated that Virginia Tech had them right where they needed them-- in a low-scoring, unwatchable affair filled with rebounding and physical play designed to eliminate the talents of perimeter skill players.

With respect to yesterday's Keys of the Game:

Stop Turning Over the Ball. Well, that's what they did. They had one less turnover than Virginia Tech, but in a game like this, that part of the box score just means that both teams were loose with the basketball. In this case, it translated into a couple of fast break points for Virginia Tech, deflections and poor passes to players trying to get into shooting position, and an overall lack of offensive rhythm. DJ Kennedy was credited with 6 of the 19 turnovers, but no one was particularly crisp with the ball.

Wright At Them? St. John's played with intensity and went at the Hokies, but couldn't put the ball in the ocean if they tried. The leading scorer was Anthony Mason Jr, who shot 4-12 (2-2 from the free throw line, 2-3 from beyond the arc) for 12 points, with 4 assists, 2 steals, and 2 turnovers in his first start of the season. Larry Wright, by the way, did not get the start, and only played 14 minutes off of the bench. He hit 1 three point shot (out of 5 attempts, 7 FgAttempted overall) but his drives generated points, as he went 4-4 from the free-throw line.

Defend the Interior
? Virginia Tech didn't shoot well (36.7%) but St. John's shot 28%. Burrell blocked 3 shots, had 6 rebounds, and took a couple of charges, good work for the freshman. Jasiulionis and Coker had 2 fouls apiece, and Coker had 5 rebounds. Of course, Diakate of VT blocked 7 shots.

eugene lawrence st johns vs virginia techBut those keys don't cover the main problem... the players have to make their shots. Or be put in position to make shots. A couple of suggestions would be that basic basketball play, the screen. Mason Jr. shot his makes off-balance and challenged. Give these guys clean looks.

Lawrence played tough, Wright injured his knee driving inside, Burrell battled, as Art Howe would say. But St. John's has to have some scheme to get guys open besides "take your man off the dribble." That works for the Memphis Tigers but not for the Red Storm's talent.

At the very least, this team needs to run hard up the court after makes and misses and put pressure on VaTech's defense. Something. A team can't saunter into its half court sets when the half court sets either don't work or lead to shot clock violations, as the Red Storm's do.

On the positive side, Jasiulionis has scored 12 and 6 points in the last couple of games, and has been able to stay on the court for longer stretches. On the negative side, DJ Kennedy scored once in 2 games, and the rumor mill is talking about transfers from a centerpiece freshman and a sophomore (which are likely not true, but will affect the perception of the team and recruiting).

2007-08 Big East conference season starts on Wednesday for the Red Storm, and this team is not ready. One announcer (Bucky Walters I believe), making a remark about the supposedly tough defense noted how those were actually scholarship players out there.