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Game 10: St. John's 85, Northwestern 69

A Polee/ Burrell game.

I. Recap | II. Who ARE These Guys? | III. Keys of the Game Recap | IV. News coverage


I. Recap

Another tournament championship! St. John's wins the Holiday Festival, 85-69.

I hope Northwestern makes it to the NCAA Tournament. I really do. But St. John's probably needed this one more for confidence and a measure of respect around the league and nation. Northwestern has had middling success in their league; St. John's has only tasted the bottom quartile of the Big East for years. The other Big East writers, pundits, and bloggers have started shoveling unwarranted dirt on the carcass of this senior class.

And it is not necessarily so, as they sing in Porgy and Bess. The things that you're liable/ to read on the Twitter/ they ain't necessarily so.

The seniors aren't playing out the string. The squad is learning to do different things; and watching and reading Steve Lavin, I realize more why he creates agita in his team's fans - he tries things. This year, he is trying a defense that isn't working well enough to cover the flaws.

But tonight, he adapted. More postgame below the fold>>



II. Who ARE These Guys?

Before I start bumping "All I Do Is Win," I have to say that this win was completely unexpected.

Who really knew what to expect from the inconsistent Red Storm playing the untested Northwestern Wildcats? The game could have gone many different ways. The game swung wildly early, with Dwight Hardy scoring 9 to pace the offense in the opening minutes (with help from DJ Kennedy).

Then there was the 12-0 run for the Wildcats against the Red Storm zone that made fans start reaching to change the channel. But the Red Storm clawed back with some good ball movement and much better man defense.

Really, after the Wildcats' 12-0 run in the middle of the 1st half, the Red Storm grabbed control of the game and didn't let it go. They forced 15 turnovers from the 'Cats, and forced them to shoot an effective field goal percentage of 49%, far below their season average. Wildcats' star forward John Shurna was great when he got the ball, but didn't score in the last five minutes of the game. In fact, he didn't seem to move around in the offense, which looked a little stagnant for the Wildcats.

And the Northwestern defense got beasted, especially in the second half. Justin Burrell fed for a season high 17 points in the paint on 6-6 shooting - mostly from point blank range, adding 9 rebounds (7 defensive) to boot. Justin Brownlee enjoyed a career high day of 21 points and a Holiday Festival MVP trophy - his defense on Shurna looked solid as well. Someone might have thought St. John's was going to finish sixth in the Big East or something.

And holy Polee! Dwayne Polee wasn't the star of the game, but the minutes he gave off the bench were incredible, invaluable. He went 5 of 7 from the field, only taking one shot that was ROOKIE Grade Basketball - a jumper with 27 seconds left in the first half, and 7 seconds into the shot clock. Otherwise, his agility was showcased on twisting short jump shots; his long arms bothered Northwestern on the wing, and he snagged rebounds in a manly manner.

Is this the real St. John's team? Or is the sudden weakness/ softness of the Northwestern Wildcats why the Red Storm looked so good? I don't mean to demean the opponent... but Luka Mirkovic played the post a little scared to go strong, the other forwards let Justin Burrell get inside, and Brownlee sliced into the lane like a guard.

St. John's shot 80% in the second half! That's probably not going to happen again. Still, there are great signs, and this is a real confidence builder. And this is closer to what Steve Lavin wants to see from his defense - disruptive, pass-altering pressure D.

Interesting note I: No Malik Stith in the game. Bad matchups or... is he not doing enough on the court?

Interesting note II: 5 players scored double figures. 4 others played and didn't score at all.

Interesting note III: St. John's shot 76% from the free throw line. MUCH better than usual.


III. Keys to the Game

Pregame notes, with original keys to the game and team pluses

Slow Them Down. Shurna was terribly off, but he didn't get shots late, and the players did have that confused look at times... even turning the ball over a bit (13 turnovers, or 19% of their possessions). A

Squeeze The Opportunity. The Red Storm scored consistently, especially in the second half. No big lulls. A+

Defend the Three Better. With the man-to-man defense, the Johnnies held Northwestern to 37% shooting from the perimeter and an effective field goal percentage of 48.4%, far below their 58% eFG average on the season. That's a real victory for the Johnnies and a victory against those hot shooters. B+

Physical, Physical. The Johnnies got to the foul line 21 times (40% of their FG Attempted). They used their strength to dominate in this matchup, especially in the paint. A

Rebound. Northwestern grabbed about 32% of their offensive rebounds. Decent job, especially by Justin Burrell, who put on his hard hat and went to work against the flailing arms of the Wildcats, especially during the second half run. Northwestern did have 10 more shot attempts than the Johnnies. Of course, St. John's didn't have offensive rebounds to get, since their shots went in. A-

IV. News

Red Storm Sports Recap

From Steve Lavin: "We had what I call a breakthrough. Often times in anything in life, you’re plateauing, but if you stay after it and you keep working then there will be a breakthrough. Then you go back to plateaus. But I thought coming off the St. Bonaventure and the Fordham losses, people who were at those games or heard me after the games, I was really encouraged with the progress we were making in certain areas, yet naturally disheartened that we had lost the games. But I could feel a breakthrough on the horizon and I think we’ve seen that in this Festival."

NY Newsday: Storm beats Northwestern in Holiday final

Shurna had 19 of his points by halftime when Northwestern's lead was 40-37, but St. John's put together a 13-5 surge coming out of the locker room for a 50-45 lead. Brownlee had eight points in that stretch, including three layups from good passing against the zone.

Explaining how the Red Storm attacked the zone, Brownlee said: "They had a point guard in the back . If Burrell got the ball, he had a mismatch, so we looked for him and were going to him. Coach emphasized attacking the rim, and we're doing a better job."

If Shurna wasn't scoring for the Wildcats, almost no one else was. Six straight points by Shurna gave the Purple a 51-50 lead, but St. John's responded with a 10-2 burst for its biggest lead at 60-53 as Polee made two nice baskets and later rose to block a shot in his most effective game yet.

NY Newsday: St. John's, Dwayne Polee have 'breakthrough'

Under former coach Norm Roberts, the same group of players tended to settle too often for three-point shots when the transition game broke down and they had to face a set defense. Since the beginning of this season, new coach Steve Lavin and his staff have worked to break the Johnnies of those habits, trying to establish an inside-out approach to the game where three-pointers come in the flow of the offense and are logical because ball movement into the low post has caused the defense to collapse and leave the perimeter open.

ESPN: Rapid Reaction: St. John's 85, Northwestern 69

St. John's shot an incredible 16-for-20 from the field in the second half, finishing 31-for-52 for the game (59.6 percent). St. John's big three scorers all played well -- Dwight Hardy had 24 points, Justin Brownlee 21 and D.J. Kennedy 13.

But Justin Burrell was St. John's MVP of the championship game, with 17 points and nine boards in 25 minutes off the bench. Burrell, averaging just 4.7 points per game, made all six of his shots from the field, and even made five of his eight free throws.

NY Daily News: St. John's defeats Northwestern 85-69 to win Holiday Festival championship at Madison Square Garden

NY Post: St. John's fights back to top Northwestern, capture Classic

NBE Basketball: ‘Breakthrough’ Victory For Lavin, St. John’s

Zagsblog: Johnnies Win Holiday Festival

Associated Presss via CBS New York: Brownlee Powers St. John’s To Holiday Festival Crown

Chicago College Basketball: St. John's tougher than Northwestern, leaves question in wake

Lake the Posts: Bah-Humbug! ‘Cats Collapse in 2nd Half, Lose First Game

Sippin On Purple: A few observations from the MSG Holiday Festival

Chicago Tribune: St. John's hands Northwestern 1st loss 85-69

NU centers Luka Mirkovic and Davide Curletti got outclassed, combining to shoot 1 of 8 with zero assists and two turnovers. Mirkovic did have 11 rebounds.

"We have to figure out a way we can help them to be more productive down there," Carmody said.

The loss could prove to be a major blow for Northwestern's NCAA tournament hopes. This represented the Wildcats' most challenging non-conference game, and they lost by 16 points. St. John's is just 7-3 with recent losses to St. Bonaventure and Fordham.

"This is a little bump in the road," Juice Thompson said. "We lost and now we have to get that focus back."

Northwestern (Official Site): Northwestern Handed First Loss By St. John's, 85-69

Coach Bill Carmody: In the second half, they just really wiped us out and we could not get anything going. They were guarding us real hard and we were absolutely unable to stop them. They were penetrating on defense and someone said they shot 80 % on the second half. That pretty much tells the whole story. We didn't run our offense the way we have been and we were unable to stop them.

Daily Northwestern: Men's Basketball: Northwestern suffers first loss 85-69 to St. John's

With NU leading by six midway through the half, freshman guard JerShon Cobb streaked towards the hoop looking to expand the Cats' lead, but a hard intentional foul by Red Storm forward Justin Brownlee changed the course of the game.

The foul sent Cobb to the floor, and although he would return later, he was never the same, according to his coach.

"He tried to come back," Carmody said. "It just wasn't good and it was starting to really bother him, so the trainers told me he was out."

With Thompson also on the bench with two early fouls, the Cats had a hard time getting anything going, and the Red Storm went on a 14-2 run.