St. John's may be starting to make a habit of these second half comebacks.
And that's not a good thing.
Sure, the Johnnies (2-0) won their two exhibitions and first pair of games that counted. But they needed some late urgency to do so. St. Mary's (MD), a Division III program, led the young Red Storm into the second half. William & Mary took a 7-point advantage into the intermission. Lehigh gave Steve Lavin all he could handle in his first game back.
The common denominator in these three games have been poor execution, both offensively and defensively, in the first 20 minutes. Whether it's complacency, lack of energy, or even too much energy, St. John's has been plagued by something.
Malik Stith and his youthful collection of teammates continue to search for the antidote as they head into Sunday's contest against the Maryland-Baltimore County Retrievers. More below the fold.
If you ask the St. John's players, they'll tell you that the early-season first half woes are attributed to lack of readiness, low energy, and an empty sense of urgency. It's nice to know they're not afraid to take accountability, if anything. But their accuracy may be a bit off.
"They were ready to play. They just felt bad about having the deficit at halftime," associate head coach Mike Dunlap said Friday. "There's a humility to that and they're open to being taught."
Dunlap is right. It is doubtful that preparation is the issue feeding first half flatness. The bottom line is that execution has been sub-par.
It's well-documented that the weakness in the patented Steve Lavin half-court match-up zone defense is its tendency to allow open looks along the perimeter. Almost every collegiate team has at least one knock-down shooter. If he's open, he's going to convert.
But what is perplexing about this year is that McDowell and McCollum were both held down in crunch time. The shots they were getting (and making) early weren't available (or being made) late. St. John's needs to find a way to find defensive consistency.
"I guess we start off sluggish," Phil Greene remarked. "We need to start off with that [second half] mentality."
Stith, the Red Storm's lone returner from last year's NCAA Tournament team, knows well how important it is to fix this emerging issue.
"I blame myself because I'm out there in the beginning of the game. We have to do something different," Stith said. "What [my teammates] don't know yet is that you can't come from behind to a Pittsburgh when you're down 16 points."
Dunlap did recognize the first half struggles as a crucial factor that needs to be addressed, but denied that drastic changes are needed. As one of the youngest teams in the country, this could be just one of the many aspects that see improvement with the passage of time.
St. John's and its fans would love to enjoy an anxiety-free second half on Sunday vs. UMBC. Coach Lavin could use the sense of ease. As could a certain beat writer.
Maybe some on-court adjustments need to be carried out, but the pre-game routine will probably stay the same. They don't seem to be worried about the NFL Sunday start time.
Check back for more pregame notes, analysis, and information in the next two days.