With the 72-56 win over South Florida, the St. John's seniors got to end their regular season showered in appreciation and draped in the black uniforms. It was blackout night, thought up, apparently, by senior forward Justin Burrell. Those black unis finally got a win (raising their record to 1-5). And the Red Storm wiped the taste of that Seton Hall loss out of their mouths, but there is obviously more work to do.
Despite some early struggles against South Florida's height and zone defense, the Red Storm managed to beat the visiting Bulls, earing their 10th win on the season (20-10, 12-6 in the Big East). That Big East win total is a reversal from last year's 6-12 mark in league play. The Johnnies get a bye through the first round of the Big East Tournament, where they are the 5th seed in the Big East Tournament. They next play on Wednesday against the winner of Tuesday's Seton Hall/ Rutgers opening round game.
But tonight was about the seniors. Like good sharers, they split the scoring. 16 points went to D.J. Kennedy, 14 to Dwight Hardy, 13 to Justin Brownlee, who came alive late, and 11 to Paris Horne. Sean Evans had some nice defense, and added 9 points and 9 rebounds; Justin Burrell chipped in with 5 points and some physical play. Malik Boothe had 5 assists. Even Dele Coker added a little, with 4 minutes and 2 offensive rebounds.
And It was a good night because walk-on senior Kevin Clark got to go 0 for 5... in 1 minute of game action. Congratulations, seniors! And there's still more ball to be played... More, below the fold.
Senior Night proved challenging to the touch; the Red Storm found it hard to handle the South Florida Bulls, despite their penchant for turning the ball over with ridiculous passes or poor ballhandling. The Bulls' size and zone kept them close for 30 of the game's minutes. Shaun Noriega (14 points, 3 assists) had a nice start, with a pair of assists and a pair of three-pointers. St. John's eventually switched up to man and Noriega proceeded to go 1-11 the rest of the way.
Still, Augustus Gilchrist (16 points, 4 rebounds) showed signs of life, using his physical gifts to grab rebounds and score in the paint, and Ron Anderson, Jr banged his way to 13 points, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and me wondering why he doesn't play more for the Bulls.
The non-Noriega contingent of Bulls guards combined for 3 points. Of course, they only took 3 shots. In 76 minutes, those players - Hugh Robertson, Antony Crater, and Jawanza Poland - also combined for 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, and 9 turnovers. That's about the playing time for two players (if those players played the whole game)... not a lot of impact there.
Still, the Bulls' height and length, especially when paired with a zone, made scoring difficult for St. John's. It didn't help that the post players started making "moves" and trying to be fancy; Dwight Hardy needed more touches in the game. And more disturbingly, the Red Storm seemed to not just struggle shooting over the zone, they struggled to execute good passing against the zone. The ball movement was slow at times, the ball often stayed on one side, players weren't moving through the zone - especially in the first half. And in transition, the Red Storm seemed not to push the ball as hard.
But the second half saw faster movement, more aggressive play from Paris Horne and Kennedy, more aggressive passing off of rebounds, and more of the kind of action St. John's fans had come to expect.
Will the team bring their A game on Wednesday?
Here's hoping. Their most likely opponent will be Seton Hall (though the Pirates vs. Rutgers is a bit of a toss-up) with the Orange men of Syracuse in the wings, so St. John's could see a steady diet of zone next week.
Will they be prepared to deal with it? This year, Senior Night isn't the end... it's the beginning.